A Travellerspoint blog

From Siem Reap to Battambang

Floating villages and an 8 and a half hour boat ride.

sunny 32 °C

We had met a dutch couple in Pakxe, Laos who highly recommended the boat trip from Siem Reap to Battambang in Cambodia. Always one to take others advice when traveling we booked it thinking how lovely it would be boating past these amazing floating villages they had told us about.

We were told we would be collected at 7am and taken to the boat which would be leaving at 8am. Of course this meant we would be picked up at 7.45am, we had learned this during our travels and it was fine. But when the bus still hadn't arrived at 7am our hotel gave them, a call. A scooter came by after another 15 minutes took Chris to a travel agent and then came back for me. One hellova scary ride - it was obvious he had loads of other people to collect as well. You just have to close your eyes and hold on!

We waited at the travel agent until 8.45 when a bus finally arrived to take us to the boat. I thought we were being led to the wrong boat then because the one we were getting on was full! Completely Chocka! No seats and spare inch of space on bottom and people were already up top and there were around 20 more of us to get on. Never mind we managed to find a spot on the roof and it was actually really nice for the first couple of hours. The floating villages were amazing and the children were all waving and yelling out.

Unfortunately we were stuck on the uncovered roof for 8 and a half hours. We ran out of sunscreen and water and spent the last 4 hours huddling under my umbrella! Never mind, it was an experience...but we will take a bus to Phnom Penh! :) :) :)

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Children making the most of the mekong!

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A floating supermarket!

Posted by nzwendy 05:36 Archived in Cambodia Comments (1)

Beaches, Beggars and BBQ's

A week in Sihanoukville, Cambodia

semi-overcast 32 °C

During our last week in Cambodia we decided to check out Southern Cambodia's beaches around the port town of Sihanoukville. We went without a lot of high expectation and ended up loving the place, nearly spending a week there!

The beaches were lovely, the water was cool and refreshing (unlike in Thailand) and everything was super super cheap!

One thing that hit you the minute you arrived on the beach was the huge amount of touts selling various things (and mostly children) and adults, children and mine victims begging day and night.

We were able to enjoy 50 cent beers and cocktails for $1.50 and ate plenty of delicious seafood while relaxing on the beach.

We decided it was our "holiday" from our travels. Because its such hard work ;)

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Sunset on Serendipity beach

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A tout heading home (probably to stock up on whatever he is selling)

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John the cat who we took from bar to bar until we found his owner (stopping for drinks along the way of course!)

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I met this girl one night on the beach. Most guesthouses and organisations such as this one try to discourage children working at night on the beach. She was trying to sell us the usual bracelets etc but I told her we would come and buy her painting the next day instead. (she didn't like this much though and bugged us for over an hour but we didn't cave). The organisation pays for health care, food and schooling for the kids. They paint and sell their paintings for $4. $2 goes to the organisation and $2 goes to the child's family. This keeps them occupied and out of danger.

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The view from our favourite 50 cent beer place.

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We went on a boat trip to bamboo island.

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tucking into barracuda for lunch. (But we're hungry - we will eat anything!)

We were sad to leave but our time in Cambodia has come to an end! We are off to Vietnam tomorrow. :)

Posted by nzwendy 05:15 Archived in Cambodia Comments (1)

Temples, Temples, Temples

And swarms of children at every turn - there is no getting away!

sunny 35 °C

We have had an interesting first few days in Cambodia! We have started in Siem Reap which gives us a contradicting first impression of the country. First we arrived at a new and modern airport with plenty of immigration and customs officers to ensure that it was a quick and painless process organising visas. Then we exited the airport and found two lovely friendly Cambodian guys who put our huge backpacks on the front of their scooters and with us at the back we zig zagged our way through the busy streets to our hotel. On the way we went past dozens of top end hotels. Even the place that we are staying at for $14 is reasonably flash! Once settled we went to explore our home for the next 4 days and wondered past shops selling labels like Dolchi and Gucci (real for once), jewellery, gelatto, Italian, French, and many many more types of food (so far we have had Cambodian, Italian, and Mexican!). This is to basically to cater for the huge amount of tourists who come each year (and now its the low season - would hate to see it during the high season!). We decided to have our first meal somewhere slightly authentic so chose a cheap Cambodian restaurant. We weren't there for more than 2 minutes when a young boy arrived with a happy "hello". "Would you like to buy some postcards,I give you a good price..." etc etc, just the usual. but after we no thanks, he changed tactic and asked where we were from. after we told him he said, Ï know the capital of NZ is Wellington, but i also know that it is not the largest city. the largest city is Auckland. Ï know that the population of NZ is 4 million minus 2. Do you know why? Because you are here.
But I also know that your Prime Minister is called Helen Clark and even though she looks like a man she is actually a woman" How can you say no to that. So we bought the postcards from what we though was this charming young lad.

Anyone who has been to Cambodia is probably laughing at us. This is the speech that a thousand Cambodian kids give but of course changing details slightly depending on where you live. Still out of all the speeches we heard his was the best!

Besides all the fancy shops and restaurants catering for the tourists there is a lot of poverty here. Many many mine victims come to Siem Reap and many many of them are working, selling books (mostly true stories about Pol Pot and the Angkar rouge - we have bought two and I am 3/4 the way through the first - extremely heartbreaking and frightening to think it only ended 10 years ago), some are in bands playing tradtional cambodian instruments, busking and selling CD's but many still beg on the streets. We are trying to remember to always keep small notes with us because we can't bear to go past and give nothing.
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Our happy scooter guys end up becoming our drivers during the next two days that we spent at Angkor Wat. We enjoyed the two days looking at all of the ancient temples along with the other few thousand tourists and touts literally running to you the second you got off yur scooter or out of your tuktuk or whatever you were travelling in. "You buy postcard/book/drink/breakfast/lunch/bracelets............."

Chris has asked me in advance to forgive him when he finally loses it with a small child.
In Laos our most used words were "Sabaidee - hello", here they are""no thank you".

I'm sure we sound pretty selfish after all that Cambodia has been through but we aren't all that bad. We are pretty sure that it wasn't a scam when we bough a child some milk powder for his child and then gave him the change (around $40 which isn't a lot to us but goes a hellofa long way here). We are just the tiniest suspicious that he wanted to take me to a special shop instead of the supermarket we were right outside at the time and then chris remembering a guy coming up to him saying ÿou again, your always here". Scam or not, I'd rather be happy knowing the baby is not going hungry although it is likely that the containers of milk powder I bough are back on the shelf in his mothers shop!

Just in case this is sounding bitter at all WE LOVE CAMBODIA!!!
The people are very very friendly. for instance my scooter guy - Phat - was the smiliest guy you could ever meet. He smiled at everything and everyone and was so happy to be paid his mere $30 for the two day trip!

Here are some photos from our time here so far:

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A traditional dish - Amok curry made with coconut milk - very very tasty!

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Phat on the left and Say on the right - our two happy drivers

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One of the gods up the path leading to Angkor Thom (there were demons on the right side).

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Inside the entrance of Angkor Thom

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One of the many faces carved into the main temple called Bayon at Angkor Thom.

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Trying to be artistic

Here are some of the statues and wall carvings we saw:
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On our second day we were collected from our hotel at 5am so that we could watch the beautiful sunrise over Angkor Wat:
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These children had a different speech lined up "Please buy some postcards, 10 for $1. 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10 and then proceeded to count to 10 in French and a few other languages I didn't catch or was trying to ignore. Then they spotted the island dancing girl on my T-shirt and we practiced some moves together before they continued on their way to the next lot of tourists.

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Other than Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom (the largest and youngest temples) we saw many many more.

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On our second day we left to watch the sunset (although it was cloudy and had been pouring down so we gave up) and these random people who we had not seen or met before wanted to take a picture of us with them. so here it is! (Random) :)

Tomorrow we are taking a boat to a town called Battambong, Central Cambodia. I'm not sure what there is to do there but the boat trip is supposed to be beautiful!

Posted by nzwendy 00:04 Archived in Cambodia Comments (3)

Pakxe - Bolaven Plateau

More waterfalls and treking

overcast 30 °C

Yesterday we went on a trip with a dutch couple to the Bolaven plateau of the champasak region. We had a fantastic guide who informed us that he was from one of the many minority groups of Laos. He was the first non-buddhist that we had met in weeks! The minority groups are mostly anamists believing the the spirits of the animals.

On our trip we stopped at tea and coffee plantations, went on an extremely slippery and difficult trek to the top of these two waterfalls 120 metres high:

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We visited a local market and were introduced to people from minority groups and saw their style of hut, clothing and instruments and dance.

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This was the most interesting one. You can see the small window in the hut. Depending on how many daughters the family has they will have the same amount of windows. The daughter stays in the hut after a days work and if a man has taken a fancy to her he will come to her window, play a tune which she will come to recognise as his own and then he will put his hand in the window. She will then inspect the hand to see how dirty and rough it is, as this will determine how hard-working he is. This is how she chooses her future husband - based on his hand! If she accepts off they go to a tree top hut to "discuss" marriage arrangements!!!!!!

Love it ;)

Posted by nzwendy 21:16 Archived in Laos Comments (2)

Si Phan Don

The 4000 Islands of Laos

storm 30 °C

We arrived in Pakxe, after an overnight trip on the sleep bus and were dropped off at the bus station where we waited a couple of hours and took another bus 500metres up the road, waited for an hour and then changed buses which finally took us to the jetty, Nakasang where we caught a boat across to a small island called Don Det!

A japanese man we had met on our travels had recommended a small guesthouse run by Mama and Papa called Santiphab. We somehow managed to catch a ride in a tram (one that had previously been used in a zoo due to the faded animal paintings on its exterior) and made our way through the centre of the island past the rice paddies with farmers and buffalo plowing the ground.

At the moment it is the school holidays and so children are often seen out working with their parents.
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After getting settled in our guesthouse (our first with no fan - Don det island has no electricity - each guesthouse has a generator and ours was turned on from 7 - 9pm) we grabbed some bikes and headed across the bridge to a larger island called Don Khon. Here we saw the Somphamit waterfalls and then took a trip to 'Cambodia' (an additional $1 fee) to see the Irawaddy freshwater dolphins, which hang out in Cambodian water (hence the extra fee not included in the tour price). There are only around 13 that live in these waters and the Irawaddy dolphin is coming very close to becoming extinct.

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Biking around Don Det

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Laos on the left and Cambodia on the right!

We stayed at Don Det for two nights and spent our time biking (which took less than an hour to get round the whole island), reading, playing cards and backgammon and of course drinking beerlaos. We tried the local specialty fresh river fish steamed in banana leaf and pretty much ate at mama and papas for every meal. After two nights we decided to head to the larger island an hour and a half upriver - Don Khong (not to be confused with Don Khon!).

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Before we left Don Det, Mama gave Chris and I a bracelet and said a prayer for safety. In order for it to work though we cannot take the bracelet off ourselves. It has to rot off. Its the first time I've seen Chris wear jewellery, I think he's getting used to it, well he better, he'll probably still have it on during his interviews in 6 weeks time!

Don Khong is the largest of the 4000 islands and has 24 hour electricity except during lightning storms - and there were many! Luckily for us the electricity only went off once so we had the luxury of a fan. The island was bigger but far less touristy. Very quiet and besides the 10 or so guest houses on one side of the island the remaining parts of the island were villages and farms! The people were unbelievably friendly and we were saying "Sabaidee" (hello!) at least every minute of our 6 hour bike trip on the second day. In Luang Prabang we had come across a project called 'big brother mouse' which organises and fundraises for books to be published in Laos and distributed to children in villages. We had bought some books and decided to distribute them around the children in the villages so that was fun!

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This wee boy had been waiting for half an hour for someone to fix the chain on his bike! Chris sorted him out. He doesn't look too sure about the book though!

After 2 nights at Don Khong we set off back to the mainland to spend a couple of nights in Pakxe before flying to Cambodia :)

Posted by nzwendy 20:38 Archived in Laos Comments (3)

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