17.02.2010 - 23.02.2010 35 °C
Luke here this time, thought it was about time i had some input into this thing.
We left Ho Chi Minh early on the 17th of Feb via bus to a small town on the Mekong called Cai Be. During the hot and long bus trip (we had prime seats directly behind the crazy driver), we heard a big bang, the bus driver hit the brakes, the bus door flung open and under the bus was a man and his motorbike who we had just collected. Luckily for all involved he was o.k and walked away from the accident with little more than a bent motorbike. From here our tour group of 20 or so were all loaded onto boats and set off for our day of exploring the Mekong and how the locals use this vast river to live.
Unfortunately the trip to the famous Floating Markets was a bit of a let down.. because the floating market was not there! They were all on break for Tet. We did see one boat with pumpkins on it. We did not buy any pumpkins.
After this they took us to a local "orchard", which, as far as we could tell, was kickback central for our guides and there was not an orchard to be seen. We ate some crap food, and paid through the nose for it. The best part was the bike ride to the orchard, where Ann started on the wrong side of the road. It was a lovely little cycle through some classic Mekong scenery. We then went to see how coconut candy and rice paper are made (we just finished the last of the coconut candy). Then, after a boat, a bus, a boat and a ferry, we came to another boat; this was our "sunset cruise along the Mekong" - but it was already dark. This boat very slowly took us to the Chau Doc Floating Hotel AKA "Floatel" for the night. Please do not let the name of this Hotel confuse you - it was an absolute dive.
The next morning we set off early again by boat to see some working fish farms - where the people who have houses on the Mekong (houses literally floating on the Mekong) catch fish and store them under their houses for selling at markets etc. This was quite fascinating. After visiting the ancient village of Cham and the largest/oldest Mosque there, we were on our way by boat to Cambodia. After 4 hours on the boat and a bit of stuffing around at the border to get Visas etc we were into Cambodia.
One dickhead German man forgot to give his passport to our guide so he was not stamped out of Vietnam, the guide didn't realise this until we were just about to arrange the Cambodian Visas - he went off his head at the old bloke, who stood his ground and simply said "its not my problem, you should have known you didn't have it." This was entertaining for us.
A further 2 hours by boat and 1 hour by bus we finally arrived at our guest house in Phnom Penh, where we again proceeded to climb to the fourth floor.
Ann writing now...
So Phnom Penh. To us it had a very different feel to Ho Chi Minh City; a bit more threatening maybe? More street urchins selling books, more stares from locals. Anyway, we took a walk up along the river to find a restaurant we'd heard about, but we got discouraged and walked back the other way. After dinner we went home and collapsed; the Mekong was all go go go and we were tired. And as we only had one full day in PP, we had a lot to figure out! We booked a morning tour to see the Killing Fields and S-21, the detention centre. Up early (again!), we were the last to our mini bus. We then went to see one of the most powerful sights I've ever seen; the killing fields, where 9000 people were exhumed from the mass graves of the Khmer Rouge. Walking through the quiet sight was more chilling because it was un threatening; a pleasant country scene, if not for the exhumed graves and the tree where they used to kill the babies before throwing them in the grave. There is a massive Stupa (buddhist temple for the dead) where the bones of the 9000 people murdered by the Khmer Rouge (they think there is a further 8000 there). The skulls are on the lowest level and you can see where they were beaten. It was truly one of the hardest things we've ever done.
After the Killing Fields, we bussed to S21, the former school-turned-detention centre for the Khmer Rouge. This is where Cambodians were held, tortured and questioned before being taken to the Killing Field. Again, something that looked so normal had housed such terrible things, and again, it was very hard to see and take in, quite graphic and scary. But we did, and I think we have a much much better understanding of what Cambodia has been through to get to where they are now.
After that, we went and had lunch and sorted out the second part of the day. I wanted to go to the Royal Palace (where the King of Cambodia lives, but the Prime Minister runs the joint). So we found ourself a tuk tuk (yay!) and went there. We didnt allow enough time; the place is massive! and stunning. We took about a million photos because everywhere we turned there was something wonderful (including cold sprinklers for me to walk under; it is very very hot in cambodia!). We saw a whole floor made of silver in the Silver Pagoda (luke was disappointed that someone had used sticky tape to keep it together at some point), millions of Buddha's and many beautiful buildings... and again got whistled at by a guard for going the wrong way. when will we learn?!
Then it was off to Wat Phnom; Wat meaning Temple. This is where the girl named Phnom discovered a big hill, or "Penh". Phnom Penh! we are so knowledgeable now - hahhaa. Anyway we decided to take a stroll around the bottom of the hill to avoid a crowd, and noticed a boy (17ish) scooting through the gardens with about 8 guards (or police? we cant tell. everyone looks official) coming after him. Of course we stopped to watch! we were a bit to close though and moved away. The guards were all shouting at the boy and he shouted back - the cheek of him. Turns out he had a knife (looked like the Steak variety), which they snatched off him and threw away; and then punched him in the face! more shouting and punching ensued, all the cambodian people were not as nervous of being close as we were; they had their chins pretty much on the guards shoulders while they asked the boy questions. eventually they let the boy go, who angrily wiped tears from his cheeks as he stormed away. Gold.
We then went to the top of the very pretty hill and had a look around, but the real excitement had passed. Another lovely Khmer meal where we discovered Amok - delicious! And then off to our early night due to the 6 hour bus to Siem Reap (town closest to Angkor Wat) in the morning.
The next day was the bus. it was:
thats enough about that. There was a cute cambodian child near us, but as i watched her I realised she was a devil child that hit her mum in the face (and didn't get told not to).
We arrived in Siem Reap at about 3pm and got a tuk tuk to our guesthouse. After basking in the air conditioning for a while, we went into town for a beer and to ask about tours to Angkor. Luke and I love research, and after a lot of it, we decided a tuk tuk and a tour guide was the way to go. We then met Jane Ryan and Laura for a couple of beers at the Red Piano; and at 3am we walked home, woke up the guard, and went to bed. Safe to say our grand plans for going to Angkor that day did not happen. Luckily we had a few days up our sleeves! That day was wasted,and we went straight to bed after dinner, carefully setting an alarm for 5am the next morning, as we were going to see the sun rise over Angkor Wat.
Unfortunately, the alarm was set (yes, by Ann) at 5am Australian time; a disappointing start to an epic day.
So we rolled out of bed for the second time at 5am, very very weary, and set off to see the world's biggest temple.
Ankgor Wat - Ankor Wow.
As soon as I saw those towers I was entranced. When I saw the massive steep staircase to go to the top I was less entranced, but seeing the sun rise over the 5 towers of Angkor Wat, even with a million other tourists, I felt like it was just us, the birds and Angkor. Even super sleepy, I was in love with the place. We went in, walked around, and took a trip up to the top. It is unbelievable that almost 1000 years ago there were structures being built at this level of sophistication and beauty.
After Angkor Wat, we headed to Ankgor Thom, a previous capital behind Angkor Wat. The place is massive, but our driver took us there and our tour guide walked us around it the opposite way to usual, to avoid the crowds. We learned a lot, not least of which was how it feels to walk around feeling like you're in a postcard. Throughout the day our guide would sit us somewhere cool and quiet to tell us the stories of the Kings who built the temples or who they are dedicated to, as well as some general Cambodian history. He was a real sweetie. He would put some of his plurals on his words after he said them, like "turtle s". We loved him.
We also visited the temple where Tomb Raider was filmed, and disappointed our guide by not remembering a film from 8 years ago very vividly. Fortunately he did some re-enactments for us of the pivotal bits, always saying "then
Angelina ran over there and fell in the studio" so we knew she didnt actually fall down mythical abyss. Phew!
To cap off the day we went back to Angkor (it was 3.30 by this time, we'd been on our feet since 5am) and we walked around while he told us more history and myths. We were about to go to one last part... but we had to pull the plug. we were exhausted - 13 hours after setting off.
So that was yesterday. This morning we woke up sore and grumpy; temple hangover! So glad we did those two areas properly though; I've wanted to go here for so long!
After fighting the grump, we headed to the green gecko project www.greengeckoproject.org that one of our friends had told us about; a NGO run by an Australian woman and her husband run, looking after 73 orphans or street kids from Siem Reap. It is an amazing organisation and we're looking forward to supporting it when we have, you know, an income. We took them some kids panadol, as they have a wish list of things they find it hard to get their hands on or afford.
After that eye opener, lunch, and a rest, we are now ready to go back to the temples for sunset.
We swear not to raid any tombs... on purpose anyway.