Jan 312014
 

holc12

bye to cambodia, and hi to vietnam!

today we caught the fast boat from phnom penh, down the mekong river to châu dóc, a small city on the river where we are spending a night in a hotel before joining the slow boat for the trip on to ho chi min city (HCMC).

as toad of toad hall famously said, “there is nothing half so much fun as simply messing about in boats!”, its such a pleasant way to travel, cool breeze, no bumps, great scenery as you cruise down the river, comfortable chairs, more leg space than a plane and you can sit outside.

also border crossings are so much more civilised, we pulled into a jetty and disembarked to clear out of cambodia, left our luggage on board, a couple of minutes later and our passports were stamped, we bought a cold beer from the girl on the jetty and jumped back on the boat.

exactly 1 beer later and we pulled into the jetty at the vietnamese border, someone took all our passports, we sat around and had another beer, climbed back on the boat and the same someone gave us all our passports back, stamped and we were officially in vietnam!

the whole trip took about 5 hours and we pulled in to châu dóc just before sunset, someone said to us our hotel was “50m that way and then turn left and its on your right down that street”. after following those directions and finding nothing resembling a hotel we asked some locals eating their dinner where the hotel was and despite their lack of english and our total absence of vietnamese, they took us to the door.

we had no sooner let ourselves in the room than the tour operator from ho chi minh that I had booked the boat trips through rang us to check we had arrived ok, and then told us the arrangements for our transfer by car to the slow boat in the morning.

it never ceases to amaze me how these things all just seem to fall into place, considering this was all organised at the last minute via email with someone in HCMC and it relied on a tuk tuk picking us up from our hotel in phnom penh, dropping us at the ferry terminal, somehow someone knowing which boat we were meant to go on from the 4 tied up at the wharf, getting us on the right boat, across two borders and into a hotel in the back streets of a wild river town – all with minimal language in common and none of the people involved working directly for the company organising the trip who were in a city hundreds of km’s away.

the internet has certainly transformed travel beyond belief in the last 10 years!

so of course the order of the day was to get straight out on the streets and find some nice local food, we walked 50m up the street from the hotel and there were just acres of street carts making fresh vietnamese meals, hundreds of people perched on the ubiquitous plastic stools at a shonky plastic table woofing down great fresh food.

sal saw a noodle dish being taken to a table and so pointed to that to choose a dish, i managed to get the girl serving to pick something off the menu for me – which turned out to be beef with chilli and lemongrass, and kai ended up with shredded chicken and fried rice – not quite what he wanted but he ate it with gusto! sal’s turned out to be noodles with prawns and squid and a top choice!

click on ‘i’ in top left corner of images for caption.

Jan 282014
 

holc8

tonite sal & i walked down to the riverfront for a couple of beers in a cafe overlooking the esplanade, after 2 large handles of beer each, we drained our wallet of the princley sum of $2 and then walked along the road where we had seen street vendors set up last night, all the tables had little gas burners on them which the cambodians call BBQ’s so we sat down and waited until a couple of giggly girls with no english turned up at the table, they gave us an arrangement of veges, herbs, eggs, noodles and raw meat as well as a pot which they put on the burner.

turned out the pot was full of tasty stock with dumplings, we then added the rest of the ingredients to our own taste and timing and then ladled the resulting noodle soup into bowls and tore up vietnamese mint to add to it – it was superb, the stock is yummy and adding the extras and cooking at the table just adds to the whole experience.

we provided free entertainment for the local diners as well as the giggly girls, watching the clumsy barangs trying to cook, serve and eat their local dish!

we woofed down all our stomachs could hold, then we had a couple more beers to wash it down and this time had our wallet lightened by  $7 – and we left enough in the pot to feed a small village!

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Jan 272014
 

today we found the ou ruessei market in phnom penh, its the real khmer local market where all the farmers sell their produce, its complete mayhem! thousands of vendors selling fruit, veges, meat, seafood, dried products, cooked products, spices, sauces, you name it, they have it.

the market is a swarming mass of humanity, an olfactory overload and visual kaleidoscope, its tighter than a can of sardines, the floors are wet and uneven. the massive undercover market is surrounded by a moat of motorcycles 10 deep for its entire circumference and there are hundreds of tuk-tuks touting for transport to and from. no one speaks any english, there are no tourists and all transactions are in local currency (khmer riel).

although i wasnt hungry i couldnt go past the freshly made spring rolls with vermicelli noodles and pork, at 500 riel (25c) I think i was charged tourist price, but what the hell, they were to die for.

click on ‘i’ in top left corner of images for description

in other news today, we nearly got caught up in a protest this morning, the street we were walking along had the protest walking down the street the other way, there was several hundred people blocking the road with placards and monks in the frontline, police started pouring in to the area, people were running away past us and we decided descretion was the better part of valour and turned tail and ran away as well! we saw truckloads of riot police in full body armour, shields and armed with what i presume were guns for rubber bullets and smoke canisters.

news of the protest here – http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/cambodian-police-break-protest-tv-license-22155393

Jan 252014
 

so tomorrow morning we are off to phnom penh, by car and then boat down the mekong river. we cant catch the boat all the way because being the middle of the dry season, the water is too low up this end.

siem reap reminds me of so many of the larger towns i have stayed over my many years of travelling the world, it takes 3 or 4 days to really get connected with the energy of the place, to work out where to eat, where to shop, and to start relaxing into the transition from traveller to resident – not resident in the sense of living permenantly in a place. Rather being at ease sufficiently to feel like you have stopped moving.

unfortunately that often means you are leaving just when you get the sense you should be staying!

siem reap is a dirty, dusty, flat town with few redeeming features – but like so much of the world, the redeeming features are the people and the food, tonite was a perfect example. we went back to the little restaurant that our guide had shown us, and where we had lunch with him 2 days ago. tonite we picked through the menu and kai had a simple but yummy fried chicken dish with rice, we had a simple fish soup with morning glory, a pork and vegetables salad and the wonderful fish & pork omelette (whoddu thunk!).

holc5

a splendid and simple meal, with a room full of laughing and friendly cambodian girls who cook and wait on the few dodgy tables and plastic chairs, a family of orphaned girls taken in by their uncle and set up in the restaurant as they grew up. kai ended up sitting with one of the sons of one of the sisters and tried his best to ‘corrupt’ him by playing games on the iPhone with him. so we sat and had a cool beer, chatting with the girls, watching some inane comedy in kmher on the TV while 2 boys were absorbed in their games of the 21st century.

holc5 (1)

its that simple, and its more than enough for me, its why i travel, i have never been one for seeking out other tourists to sit and chat with, to hook up on facebook or compare lists of places been and things done at the shallowest level, travelling for me is about that interconnection with the people, culture and food of the places we visit.

yet in a city filled with thousands of tourists we saw almost none sitting in the khmer restaurants, or eating the street food with the local workers, and I never saw another child interacting with the cambodian kids – and we wonder why there is so much racism and xenophobia, although I am not sure which is the chicken and which is the egg.

 

Jan 242014
 

holc3this morning we found a little french cafe we had been looking for, kai woofed down pancakes and chocolate, which while not very healthy, were delicious by all accounts. he then had a hair cut and after lunch Bun picked us up and we headed out to the temples again, first up was Ta Prohm, where scenes of the film Tomb Raider were shot. it is largely overgrown with huge banyan trees wrapped around and growing through its structure.

Ta Nei was the second one we visited, also largely overgrown by the jungle, but as its hidden away down a dirt track very few tourists visit it, in fact while we were there we were the only people visiting the temple – a welcome relief from the hordes crawling over the other temples. we were able to get a real sense of the peace and serenity of these incredible temples set in the towering and shady jungle.

the final temple we visited was Bayon, this temple was built in a period of peace between hindus and buddhists in cambodia and the intricate carvings reflect this. its known as the temple of faces due to the large buhdda faces carved in the towers.

our final stop for the day was to observe a troupe of monkeys playing in the grass beside the road, it was a highlight for kai, there were several new born babies as well as big males, pregnant mums and juveniles. we bought some bananas to feed them with and i discovered they dont like having their tails pulled – i was only actually giving it a gentle tug to encourage one to turn around for a photo, but i have a scratch on my leg to prove it!

we actually enjoyed the 3 temples today much more than Angkor Wat, they were smaller and more intimate, the shade from the huge trees makes them cooler and overall they just seemed more interesting.

the history of the whole region is fascinating, the vandalism by each of the religions towards the others is such a sad indictment of organised religion, so many of the carvings defaced after changes between hinduism, buddhism and islam as the state religions in the khmer kingdom.

the damage is much worse than that caused by 900 years of weathering or decades of ferocious war in the 20th century.

the sheer scale of the empire at its peak in the 12 century is hard to picture, such enterprise, infrastructure development, enginineering and pure human effort is hard to imagine – especially as the whole region was basically deserted later, hence the fact that all these temples lay unknown and undiscovered until the 1930’s.

tomorrow we are having a lay day, then sunday we are catching the boat down to Phnom Penh.

click on the ‘i’ in the top left hand corner of the images to see the caption.

 

Jan 242014
 

holcas you can see, its a bit chilly in the mornings in siem reap, even allowing for us coming out of our wet season and into their dry, there is no doubt its rather cool first up.

we have spent a couple of days getting familiar with siem reap, being somewhere that there are so many tourists is a bit of a shock after malaysia, and it does detract from the experience somewhat.

the food is good, although its proving harder than I expected to find good local food – mainly due to tourists meaning that there are many more western style restaurants than i expected.

as you can see from the tarantula video, there are still opportunities for authentic street food!

today we did angkor wat, we hired a guide,  he had a car with a driver and he was certainly informed and passionate in his guiding, the numbers alone are impressive, 30 million tons of sandstone, floated on bamboo rafts down a canal from the mountain where it was mined, 8000 elephants in the construction and a 100,000 khmer labourers to build it – all done over 900 years ago.

the highlight for me was the little cambodian restaurant that our guide, Bun took us to after the tour! we asked him to take us somewhere to have a traditional cambodian meal and the fact that the restaurant is only 100m from out hotel is an added bonus!

we had an amazing omelette, a yummy sour soup with fish, a great pork and pumkin dish, and a sweet and sour vegetables.

last night we had the amazing experience of going to the local cambodian circus, called phare.

it was an incredible blend of culture, theatre, story telling, dance, acrobatics, juggling and music – with amazing energy and intensity.

the circus schools takes disadvantaged young kids from cambodia and teaches them to become performers so it has an important social as well as cultural function. we had vip seats in the centre, front row – when the flaming skipping rope slipped out of their hands , as you will see in the video, it nearly hit us and kai reckoned “we were nearly killed!”. kai had an absolute ball and along with Lego land I think it is a highlight of his travels so far.