Holiday in Cambodia

Splendour of the Khmer empire

The great thing about travelling and blogging is that you always have plenty to write about. The terrible thing about blogging and travelling is that you are so busy doing interesting things that it’s difficult to find the time to write about them. Fortunately, the weather forecast currently reads, “hotter than the innermost circle of hell, wetter than an octopus’ garden” so there’s some quality hiding-from-the-sun / rain down time.

The ‘Eyes of the Mekong’ Fishing boats along the river in Vietnam are traditionally decorated with these curious eyes.

I arrived in Cambodia five days ago by boat along the famed Mekong river, making this the fourth country I’ve arrived in by boat, ship or ferry, and the second iconic waterway I’ve taken an extended voyage on to reach a destination (rather than sailing along for excursion purposes) the first one being the Amazon. This was a very different experience.


We had made our way through the Mekong delta via Can Tho for a sunrise visit to the floating market of Cai Rang, to Chau Doc, the jumping off point for boats to Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and beyond. It’s a short journey from Chau Doc to Phnom Penh of about 5 hours, taking in a stop for exit and entry at immigration of about 45 minutes in total. The boat is a functional fast boat rather than the human cargo tub we cruised down the Amazon in; less romantic, but more fun than a bus all the same.

Contrary to my previous battles of wills with transport companies and immigration officials in numerous central American states, I gave in to doing things the easy way on this trip. The visa is $20, but all guide books warn that the going price is around $23 after the standard diddling of the officials, and Hang Chau, the boat company we travelled with, charged $24 and had their agent do the whole lot for us. I figured that for once I could write off the $4 as the boat company’s service charge, even though in the back of my mind I’m aware that, “the whole lot” just included collecting in everyone’s passports and immigration forms and handing them to someone to be stamped. Maybe I’m mellowing in my old age. Or maybe these things seem less important on a short holiday than they did when crossing borders was part of day to day travelling life. Or maybe my moral fibre is dissolving away under the influence of having a decent income. Who knows.

From Phnom Penh, a small and quiet seeming idyll compared to the overwhelming bustle of Ho Chi Minh City and the sparkly immensity of Shanghai, we took a bus straight out to Siem Reap to kick start our time in Cambodia with the motherlode – Angkor Wat. Here it really felt an adventure was beginning. The paved section of the main highway between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap ran out 1 1/2  hours into the seven hour journey and the bus weaved along the road to avoid pot holes and the encroaching red mud eating away at the roadside. We passed through emerald green fields dotted with grazing cattle, flooded rice fields, houses of a very particular design; not quite on stilts, but definitely raised high up, some featuring beautiful designs and paintings on their sides, and eventually arrived at our destination and the no-frills “Same Same Backpackers” in time for a beer and bed.

Ta Prohm, tomb-raidered.

The next three days were spent lazing in the sun around the pretty, tourist-filled market area, and around the stunning and quite overwhelming Angkor archaeological complex. Similarly to the huge Mayan site at Tikal in Guatemala, sunrises and sunsets are key times to view these massive stone temples and palaces, and if you buy your ticket after 5pm you get that evening free before your days start being ticked off your pass. We took advantage of this and hired a tuk-tuk to take us to Phnom Bakeng to watch the sun set over the immense ancient reservoir to the west of the complex. The next day we went all in and hired a tuk-tuk for the day to take us around the ‘big circuit.’ This comprises some of the oldest buildings, dating from the 10th century, and some of the best known, such as Ta Prohm, the ‘Lara Croft’ temple, apparently both part of the inspiration for the game and also a location site for the Angelina Jolie film. The temperature currently hits an average of around 34C each day, and humidity is around 80%, so after 8 hours we were not only templed-out, but also somewhat weathered out.

We used our 3 day passes to take the next two days much slower and looked around the ancient walled city of Angkor Thom the following afternoon, dodging a heavy rainstorm by hiding in a tuk-tuk mid way through, and saving the best for last with a visit to the mighty Angkor Wat on our final day. It’s hard to describe how impressive this complex is. The size alone is astounding, with both Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom surrounded by moats almost 200 metres wide traversed by giant stone causeways leading to towering stone gatehouses decorated with incredible carvings. The temples and other buildings (lakes, reservoirs, bathing pools) on the outer circuit each have their own unique features: Sra Srang, the royal bathing pool, is vast and surrounded by lush scenery; Pre Rup has some of the wonkiest looking towers and huge fallen statues, and a terrifyingly steep ascent to the top terrace, currently open to the public; Baphuon, within Angkor Thom, is a hulking giant stone immensity. My favourite, and I don’t think I’m alone in this, was the mystical labyrinth of Bayon with its hundreds of serene stone faces and weaving paths. It probably helped that I was there in the late afternoon just after a heavy downpour and the stone halls were gloomy and atmospheric.

Sadly photos will have to follow when I’m back in the land of the superfast broadband as here it’ll take all night.

Today has been another travelling day with a bus journey to the town of Battambang to enjoy the best preserved French colonial architecture in the country and hopefully tomorrow to take a bike tour around the surrounding countryside. The rainy season is definitely getting underway and we’ve dodged torrential downpours and impressive thunderstorms for four of the last five nights, but it does mean the countryside is alive with verdant greens.

Rainy season in Siem Reap

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7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Cristin's Adventures
    Aug 11, 2014 @ 00:04:11

    I really miss Cambodia 😉

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    Reply

  2. RedandGonzo
    Jul 24, 2014 @ 04:59:36

    Beautiful!

    Like

    Reply

  3. carolinepgcap
    May 28, 2014 @ 00:57:57

    Sounds amazing!

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    Reply

  4. christine fox
    May 25, 2014 @ 08:27:09

    Hi Hannah and Jamin. Hope everything is going well, sounds like you are having fun, keep meaning to send you a proper email.
    christine f

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    Reply

  5. Dad
    May 20, 2014 @ 05:28:43

    Sounds like a really enjoyable holiday.

    Like

    Reply

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