After a day whizzing around Phnom Penh in a tuk tuk it was time for more pagodas, and Phnom Penh has a lot to see with one in almost every neighbourhood. In order to avoid temple overload I stuck to those most prominent. Wat Ounalom on the river front is allegedly the oldest in the city, predating the end of the capital’s site at Angkor in the 15th Century. It is also home to the country’s Buddhist leader.Continue reading “Phnom Penh pagodas and palaces”
A weekend in Phnom Penh
After 4 nights in the jungles of the Cardamom Mountains, I’ll be honest I was dying for a shower and clean clothes. I have no problem with roughing it, but there’s nothing like being clean again and not smelling of the jungle covered in a film of red dirt.
Phnom Penh is a busy capital with insane traffic but once I was scrubbed clean I was keen to go and explore. I was staying near the Kandal market, full of vegetables, fish and meat as well as household goods. It did mean though that I was also close to the Tonle Sap river, and where it joins the Mekong – the confluence where in the wet season the water backs up and causes the Tonle Sap river to flow in the other direction, back to the lake.
Phnom Penh is a large city so at some point you will need to jump on a tuk tuk to get around. That said, some of the best shops and restaurants are around the riverside. There’s also some fantastic social enterprise shops on street 240 at the back of the Royal Palace. If you’re not already weighed down with gifts and treasures, head to the Russian market where you will find opportunities to shop.Continue reading “A weekend in Phnom Penh”
Trekking in the jungles of Chi phat in the Cardamom Mountains
Breaking free of the busy traffic in Phnom Penh required patience, but we were heading for the Cardamom Mountains for 4 nights staying with the Chi phat community so I was excited, even if the morning would be spent on the road travelling.
After three hours of driving on roads undergoing reconstruction, we reached the turn off – a dirt track which lead 17km deep into the jungle to the Preak Piphot River where we hopped onto the boat to cross to the small village of Chi Phat, on the other side.
This was my first time in a rainforest and I hoped for a great introduction to the Cardamom mountains and also to staying in a jungle community. I wasn’t disappointed.Continue reading “Trekking in the jungles of Chi phat in the Cardamom Mountains”
The floating village of Phoum Kandal and Wat Oudong
Lying in bed wrapped in a cotton sheet I watch sunrise in Battambang. Through the blind the sky is turning from reds to yellows.
The dull whirr of the air conditioning, the buzz of insects waking, the occasional motorbike whining by and horns beeping; and below it all is the quiet, mourning melody of a Khmer guitar playing a sad stirring tune.
The sky is blue and the sun is up, the traffic is building as cars beep and drive by the hotel. Voices call and the music disappears into the background, drowned out by the sounds of the day.
We left Battambang early, heading for Phnom Penh. The drive was long and so we stopped en-route at Phoum Kandal, a Vietnamese floating village on Tonle Sap. We caught a local boat to visit the village. Unlikely Mechrey I’d visited a few days before, this floating village was along the lake edge rather than out in the depths of the lake. It was also clear that there was a divide between the poor and extreme poor even in the floating village.Continue reading “The floating village of Phoum Kandal and Wat Oudong”
Battambang – temples and markets or guns and grenades
Having spent an amazing week in Siem Reap it was sad to leave the friendly buzz of the town behind and head off towards Battambang. The 3 hour drive took us past mile after mile of rice fields, making it clear why this part of Cambodia is the main area for rice production in the country.
It was also clear that local ‘delicacies’ were going to be more common; we stopped by the roadside to buy bamboo-sticky rice and also found these dishes. Being a vegetarian provided a great excuse to avoid trying them!Continue reading “Battambang – temples and markets or guns and grenades”
Phnom Kulem National Park
Heading nearly 50km outside of Siem Reap into the Phnom Kulem National Park we had a more relaxing day of visiting temples and waterfalls planned.
Phnom Kulem is considered the birthplace of the Khmer Empire and the temple of Phreah Ang Thom is the most sacred place in Cambodia for Hindus and Buddhist, as well as the site of the largest reclining Buddha in the country. The National Park was created in 1993 and listed in 2012 by UNESCO to protect the area from the farming practices causing deforestation in the region.Continue reading “Phnom Kulem National Park”
Cycling and Kayaking Tonle Sap
Yet another scorching hot morning to cycle out of Siem Reap and traffic dodge – this time heading 18km away to Tonle Sap Lake for a day of kayaking and seeing the floating villages. If the cycling in the crazy traffic hadn’t been daunting enough my kayaking skills were non-existent so the day was always going to be an interesting one.
Heading south out of Siem Reap we took highway 6. I tried to get a photo as it was actually fun and surreal to be on a mountain bike cycling up a 6 lane highway out of town but I was also trying to concentrate on not hitting anyone – or anything – so its a bit wonky. The traffic system is confusing to say the least; there is a dual carriage way in the centre apparently for faster vehicles, with two lanes either side of it intended for slower vehicles travelling both directions. The rules are quite flexible I discovered when we pulled out on to the centre dual carriageway alongside a wagon.Continue reading “Cycling and Kayaking Tonle Sap”
Cycling Angkor’s Temples
Having spent a few days wandering around Siem Reap and dodging the traffic, I have to admit I was a bit wary about the idea of jumping on a bicycle to head around the Angkor temple complex. In the end it was the best way of travelling; weaving through the traffic, learning to adopt a ‘blinker approach’ and just riding and letting the traffic go around me. Its loads of fun when you get over the initial fear of being run over by a tuk tuk or a huge truck.
The UNESCO protected Angkor site stretches over 400 km2 in total and reflect the different capitals of the Khmer Empire during the 9th to 15th Century and is one of the finest archaeological sites in South East Asia. However the chances are you’re probably going to head for the main temples of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its fantastic sculptural decorations.
The traffic significantly reduced as we passed through the checkpoint and onwards around the outside of Angkor Wat. We purchased a 3-day temple pass for $40 allowing us time to properly visit the temples and not rush around too much. I highly recommend this as the temples are too extensive, varied and vast to be able to see the best in one day.Continue reading “Cycling Angkor’s Temples”
Social enterprises in Cambodia
Its hard to travel in a country like Cambodia and not be affected by the poverty that exists. A relic from the conflicts and genocide under the Khmer Rouge that has left a country, with a powerful and glorious history, struggling to rebuild itself.
For the traveller, this provides an opportunity to see a country untouched by too much commercialisation (except perhaps in Phnom Penh where development is quickly racing along), and a place were the people are open to the opportunities tourism can bring, without being ruined by it.
The Khmer Rouge robbed the country of a generation, especially those best able to transform its future economy and infrastructure. Its hard not to notice that loss as you walk around the cities and towns – there’s few people over 50.Continue reading “Social enterprises in Cambodia”
Arriving in Cambodia – a week in Siem Reap
Cambodia provides a fascinating mix of history and culture along with a beautiful environment, neither feeling ruined by extensive over-development by tourism.
My first encounter with the country perhaps gave a very jet lagged me, the wrong impression of the people I was going to meet in Cambodia. Passport control around the world it is the place of hard nosed, smile-free faces and in Siem Reap I was met with seven such faces behind a long wide desk – like a panel at a talent show or prison guards at a jail (I imagine!). Despite having arrived with with money for my visa but no photo, I discovered this wasn’t a problem as I paid an extra two dollars and got into the country anyway. Was that a bribe, or an official payment? They obviously didn’t care too much about who I was.
As a place to start Siem Reap is where most people head, it being the nearest town to the world famous and UNESCO world heritage sites of the Angkor temples. I recommend before you jump in a tuk tuk and follow the crowds to the temples check out the town itself. So many people arrive here on an organised trip and don’t have the time to wander. Its a great place to start an adventure in the country as it is small enough to explore on foot – just remember where the river that runs through the town is in relation to you and you won’t get too lost. Or that’s how I navigated the myriad of roads and back alleys.Continue reading “Arriving in Cambodia – a week in Siem Reap”