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Cambodia

A full week in Phnom Penh? Why that?

From Auckland, NZ, to Phnom Penh, Cambodia

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Getting from Auckland to South East Asia, is fairly easy and cheap. With AirAsia serving the region so well, we were able to get to Phnom Penh in Cambodia for less money than the one way flight from Sydney to Broome had cost us a couple of months earlier.
The only downside was the less than ideal connection. On the way to Kuala Lumpur, our plane had a short stopover in Australia’s Gold Coast. We had assumed that we’d be able to stay on the plane, but unfortunately had to get out, go through security checks and were only 30 min later admitted to board again. What an unnecessary effort – specifically with a sleeping child (which was eventually not sleeping anymore).
The other disadvantage of our flight was that we were not able to check our baggage through to Phnom Penh, but had to retrieve it in Kuala Lumpur and check it in again. I had bought two separate tickets to make sure we can show the New Zealand immigrations officials a ticket to a destination we do not need visa for. Both flights were AirAsia, but they refused to check our baggage through.
So upon arriving in Kuala Lumpur at 4:30 in the morning local time, we had to go through immigration, get our bags, check them in again and go once more through all security controls and to our gate. At least we got some exercise and luckily everything worked out fine. As a sided effect of this process, we have now official stamps in our passports that we have been to Malaysia. Despite this official proof that would probably count for any kind of record attempts, we do not feel that we’ve been to Malaysia. Getting to meet two bored (and unfriendly) immigration officials and one lethargic and tired check in employee as only representatives of their country would be a rather unfair picture of Malaysia. I’m sure we will eventually have the time and energy to get some more extensive contact with this country and its inhabitants.
But not now. We had briefly contemplated using the opportunity of this stopover in Kuala Lumpur to get to see the town a bit, but we were too anxious to get to Phnom Penh to afford some time elsewhere.
So what’s so special about Phnom Penh? Well, formerly it used to be called the ‘Pearl of Asia’, but even though our guidebook promised that it’s on the way back to the previous splendor, there’s still way to go. So, let’s be clear: we had another reason to go there.
When we were sitting in Australia around Christmas time and had finally worked out our plan on how to spend the last three months of our travels, we came to a great plot. Sam and I agreed that I would be a perfect ending for our trip to spend some time in Mongolia and to then go back home by train – the Transsibirian Railway to be exact.
What sounds like a great idea, is sometimes more easily said than done. Talking with a travel specialist, it soon turned out that the only way to get a visa for Russia, is to apply in the home country. That was very bad news. We had little interest to fly back to Germany just in order to get our visa.
As I’m not easily deterred when I have a good plan in mind, I did turn to my friend Google in search of a good idea. Soon it turned out that the Russian Embassy in Cambodia seems to have a much more relaxed view in respect to issuing Russian visa to non-residents. Seemingly other travelers had been successful in getting their Russian visa there, so that’s what we wanted to try as well.
So that’s why Phnom Penh made it on our list of destinations. And that’s why we arrived at the airport, marveled at the process of getting our visa (our passports went through the hands of probably 10 people in the process), got our stuff, took a taxi to the hotel, enjoyed a quick welcome drink, dropped our stuff there, gathered our paperwork (quite a stack) and took a tuk tuk directly to the Russian embassy.
Yes, we were tired and exhausted. We had had hardly any sleep on our night flight and had six hours of jetlag. Yes, we were stunned by the sudden exposure to Asian traffic rules again (anyone who has been to a South East Asian city will know that I’m not referring to right-hand traffic here). And yes, it was extremely hot and humid. The pool at the hotel was definitively much more tempting than the outlook of having to deal with authorities and bureaucracy. But we were in Phnom Penh on one single mission that we tried to tackle as soon as possible.

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At 10:15am we were at the embassy. We were cordially invited to take a seat in the waiting area and joined a group of others waiting for their audience in the consulate.
As time passed by, we got talking with some of the others waiting with us. We made the acquaintance of Nicole and while talking about the many languages she spoke with various people at the embassy, found out that she’s in fact Romanian. Being brought up in a gypsy community as the daughter of one of the gypsy kings, she had so many stories to tell. I love meeting people like Nicoleta – that’s exactly what makes traveling so much fun.
The part about traveling that is definitively not so much fun is bureaucracy. Up to now, having been to rather ‘easy’ destinations, we did not have to deal with too much of it. This should sure change from now on. Our first glimpse of that came at noon. At that time we were waiting to be admitted any minute, as it was finally our turn. This is when the consulate officially closes. A rather unfriendly employee came to the waiting area and declared the consulate closed. Next week Monday at 8am, the consulate would be open again.
While most other people left, we tried our luck. And indeed, it turned out to be our lucky day after all. Five minutes after the guy had disappeared into the bowels of the consulate, a lady appeared. When explaining her our situation, that we had waited for so long and that we had all required documents for getting a visa ready at hand, she promised to have a chat with the consul. And he seemed to have a good day and admitted us at 12:15.
In fact, they quickly saw that we had all required documents. We did not even need to go for the urgent visa. For 210 USD, we'd get the visa next Thursday. We happily accepted. We’ve hardly ever been so relieved. Wow, we had made it! Our Russian visa were within reach and we’d be able to realize the perfect ending of our round the world trip by taking the legendary Transsiberian Railway! Delighted we returned to our hotel to celebrate.
And we even found the perfect companions for our celebrations. As we hit the pool after lunch, there were already four other people there. We soon found out that Andrey, Angelika, Tatiana and Mikhail were from Russia, enjoying their last day in Cambodia before heading towards home.
Initially it was Max who broke the ice by identifying them as perfect companions for playing in the pool. And indeed, they were playing endlessly.
Sam, Andrey and Misha tried their best in emptying the pool with a simultaneous dive-bomb. The wave they produced was gigantic and proved to be a good reason to celebrate.

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At 5pm we were ready for Happy Hour and ordered our drinks. After a first round, there was a second one, eventually a third and then the count becomes a bit more blurry and less reliable… What can be stated with certainty is the fact that at 5 to 8 a last order was placed to make use of Happy Hour. By then, all of us had eaten so many peanuts with lemon grass / ginger flavor and had drunk so much that the original plan of having dinner became less relevant.
Despite the 6 hours jet lag vs. New Zealand and a severe lack of sleep from the overnight flight, Max managed to stay up until 8 pm. I used the excuse to go to bed as well. Sam stayed up later.
Max and I were awake at 5am and were happy to get breakfast at 7am. That’s also where we met our Russian friends once more. They had to head out quickly to catch their ride to the airport. What a pity that they had to leave. Even though one should think that by now we’ve gotten used to saying good bye to new friends and acquaintances, it still makes us sad. Let’s see – we’re still hoping that we’ll be able to host some of the people we met on the road back home in Germany when we’ll be back.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 09:00 Archived in Cambodia Tagged pool tuktuk visa russia transsib gypsy embassy Comments (0)

Exploring Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh

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Our first full day in Phnom Penh started already as good as it gets. The hotel featured a fabulous breakfast buffet – a treat we’ve not experienced since the start of our journey almost one year ago.
Despite the excellent food at breakfast, it did not take long to get hungry again (thanks to still being internally tuned to New Zealand time) and we ventured out to explore. Even though we had been exposed to the Cambodian traffic already the day before, it took a bit of courage to walk along the street. The sidewalks were so busy with street vendors, parked cars, construction sites or other obstructions that we could use them only for very limited stretches. For most of the walk, we had to walk on the street, together with the mayhem of tuk tuks, scooters, cars and trucks. Being in a one-way street meant that more than 80% of traffic came from behind us. That made us turn around constantly to check what is coming our way. Still, for short distances tuk tuks, scooters and occasionally even cars don’t seem to mind going against the traffic flow.
In all of that chaos, our attention was regularly diverted to other things. There were sudden holes (big ones!) in the ground that we had to watch out for. There were thousands of unfamiliar smells around, many of them not necessarily very pleasant. And last but not least, every single tuk tuk driver who spotted us along the road was certain that we’d prefer using his services and made sure we understood that he’s available to take us anywhere we want.
After having survived the walk for about three blocks, we retreated to a small restaurant along the road and sat down for lunch. Even though the menu was also available in English, we did not really know what to expect. Our lucky orders were better than we had expected. While every dish tasted very different from what our taste buds are used to, the food was really good.
With some food in our stomachs, it was already easier to walk the last couple of blocks to the Central Market. The impressive art deco building housed a huge maze of different stalls and we strolled aimlessly around to get an impression. There was much to be seen and even though we did not need anything, we had fun just having a look.

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The section with the jewellery and cloths did not smell like anything specific - apart from the occasional whiff of incense to appease the gods that are responsible to send many shoppers to the stalls. Once we got into the detergents and beauty area, this changed already and we were exposed to multiple fragrances overlying each other. Well, the fruit and vegetable section took a bit more of getting used to and even though we barely saw the butchers’ area, we were able to distinguish its signature smell immediately.

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Eventually we had seen enough for our first day and headed home. The cool waters of the pool were simply too tempting – specifically in light of the warm and humid temperatures that we were simply not yet used too.
On the other hand, there also was a concept that we had gotten used to very quickly and we made sure not to miss out on the happy hour in our hotel.
The next day, we headed to a restaurant for lunch that we had spotted while driving by in a tuk tuk on our way back from the central market. What had looked nice while driving by, did turn out to be rather icky. Only once we were seated and had ordered our food, we realized the rather odd clientele consisting of elderly white men and young Cambodian ladies. We just did not like what we saw. It seemed like most people knew each other already. And it did not help the atmosphere, that some people had drunk a bit too much and lots of them were approaching Max, touching his face and asking all kinds of questions. He was not amused. And neither was Sam when a lady tried to rub his back. We had our lunch, paid and tried to get away from there. It was just not nice. And while it might be simply a part of real life in South East Asian towns, I prefer just knowing about it vs. seeing its protagonists interact.
We walked away from that place being sure not to return again, found a tuk tuk driver and asked him to take us to the Royal Palace, the key attraction of Phnom Penh. Incredibly enough, he had issues understanding where we wanted to go. Initially I had assumed that we were simply not having luck with our drivers: already the taxi driver who took us from the airport to our hotel had gotten lost. When going to the Russian embassy and back to the hotel, our tuk tuk drivers had to first confer with colleagues for a couple of minutes and to consult a map before heading off… But not knowing where a tourist wants to be taken when he says ‘Royal Palace, please’ that was beyond our understanding.
With the help of our navigation system on the mobile phone, we made it successfully to the Royal Palace. We found the ticket booth and were pleasantly surprised by the nice and quiet atmosphere inside – far away from the bustling streets just outside its walls. The architecture of the palace reminded us very much of Bangkok’s Royal Palace.

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But while the buildings were nice to see, the real attraction were the people: the tour groups following their tour leaders which were equipped with colorful umbrellas, the monk taking selfies of himself in front of one of the buildings, the uniformed guards idling and the locals who came to the temples to pray.

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From the Royal Palace, it was just a short stroll to the river. Seeing where the Tonle Sap River joins the mighty Mekong was nice as it was two completely different colors coming together. But it was even more fun to see the multitude of ferries and boats crossing the river.

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We took a short walk, but eventually headed home, as we had already a great plan for the evening. Sopharath, one of the kind employees working at the reception of our hotel, had offered to take Max to the playground together with her six-year old son Pong Pong. We were excited about the idea and enjoyed a great evening.
Equipped with a cup of sugarcane juice each, we headed off in a tuk tuk to the playground. There were lots of people there. Despite the crowd, it was fairly easy to spot Max. Seemingly he was the only blond kid around. It was a very nice atmosphere in town at night time.

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Eventually we treated ourselves to some food at a street stall – an interesting experience as we had never tried some of it before, e.g. bitter melong. To fill our stomachs, we then headed to a burger restaurant filed with locals before heading back home to the hotel.

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After these first days, we had gotten used to our surroundings already. Navigating in the dense chaotic traffic became normal and we stopped turning hectically around every couple of seconds. We went with the flow and enjoyed what we noticed while walking along.

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We had also found a couple of nice places in the vicinity: we were daily guests at the juice bar at the corner facing the tough decision which of the delicious smoothies or fresh fruit juices to choose from. In addition, there was an excellent Malay restaurant just a bit further down the road that we really liked. So we started feeling more at home.
Still, it felt like a big adventure getting some small chores done. When trying to get our laundry done locally, we were directed by the staff in our hotel, to a small alley across the street. We would have probably never ventured in there. In the maze of small alleys, we eventually found a small laundry to take our stuff. And in the process, we discovered a different world: there were tiny restaurants, many street stalls, youths playing at pool tables, kids playing marbles and many small businesses.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 11:06 Archived in Cambodia Tagged traffic food market palace pagoda tuktuk playground alley stall Comments (0)

Cambodian countryside

Phnom Penh and surroundings

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Having seen a fair share of city life, we felt the urge to get out of town and to discover more of the countryside. So we booked a tour to check it out.
The first part of the tour brought us to the ‘killing fields’ genocide museum in Choeung Ek, one of the more than 300 Cambodian sites of mass murder during the reign of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. An audio guide provided us with much more background on the subject. It is already hard to imagine how the Khmer Rouge managed to kill roughly a quarter of the population in their five years of ruling – half actively the other half indirectly by letting the agriculture and food production go down. But it is much harder to understand that their leader Pol Pot got to live another 20 year in peace without being put in prison. Hearing that he was able to marry again and see his grandchildren grow up, was harder to believe than the fact that the Khmer Rouge continued to hold the official UN seat for Cambodia for years after having been overthrown.

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After that excursion into the brutal history of Cambodia, it was time to clear our minds. We headed out together with our guide Det into the countryside. Sam and I were riding on 330 Polaris ATVs and Max on a small kid’s ATV with the guide riding behind him.

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After a kilometer on tarmac, we headed off onto small dirt roads leading along the river Prek Thnot. We got to see little isolated villages, nice pagodas, mango and banana plantations and rice fields. Our first break was at a small store to quench our thirst. We were very happy about the dust masks we had been given. The roads were very dusty.

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Even though we were mostly riding along, we were able to get a good impression of village life. There were the youths playing soccer or volleyball on village squares, there were the kids taking a bath in murky waters of the canals leading to the rice fields, the huge and thin white cows dotting the fields, the huge containers next to the houses filled with rain water from the roof, the omnipresent signs advertising the merits of the Cambodian People’s Party, kids running up to us and waving, the setup of a wedding pavilion on the dirt road leading through a village and much more…

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Our second stop at a pagoda was very nice as well. We had a look around, and even got to see some monks.

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We were lucky to see all of this on a Sunday, being able to see people enjoying life. We had tremendous fun our tour. But it was a long trip and eventually we were happy to have the last stop for watching the sunset over the rice fields.

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We were exhausted by the time we arrived at the hotel. It had been a long and exciting day. We had dinner and fell asleep.
The next couple of days we took it very easy. We spent much of our time at the pool, enjoying life and planning for the days to come. One of those days, we realized that the pool really helped us to balance the exploring in the heat with relaxation. Realizing that the place we had booked in Bangkok did not have a pool, we cancelled that booking and found another place that did have a pool.
We read much, caught up on sleep and were happy just to be in one place without having to rush around to tick boxes in whatever sights should be ticked off by the avid tourist. While we’re often enough behaving like tourists in our travels, long term traveling is different.
So our key highlights of the next couple of days did not include the National Museum or one of the many temples. Instead, we went for another excursion with Sopha. After picking up her son Pong Pong at his school, we headed to the ferry and crossed to the other side of the Mekong.

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After another couple of kilometers passing along small markets, miniature stores, pagodas, family houses and animal paddocks, we reached the mango garden of Sopha’s brother. It was nice and peaceful there. The boys had a great picnic that Sopha had brought along, we picked some mango and had great conversations. There were many working cows passing by. It’s hard to believe that these cows are fit for doing heavy work in the rice fields – as they look so thin. From one of the nearby rice paddies we had a nice view of the sunset. What a great outing!

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On the way back, we passed a wedding ceremony in a decorated pavilion erected on the main road. Life in the dark was mellowing the scenery. The omnipresent garbage is not visible anymore, the atmosphere looks cozy, making even the poorest living conditions look romantic and homey.

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After our ferry ride back home, we concluded the evening with a typical Khmer BBQ. We were probably the only foreigners in the huge place. Sopha ordered for us a full set containing meat, various entrails (we suppose it was heart, liver, kidney, but also something else unidentifiable), shrimp and octopus. In addition, there was onion, bell pepper, mushroom, green tomato, cucumber, cabbage and water mimosa. What a feast! We were very full at the end of our meal and happy that we had to walk only two blocks back to our hotel.

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While we enjoyed life in Phnom Penh, there are also bad news that we heard from home. It’s strange being so far away and still affected by such far away decisions. While shocking indeed, the distance makes it probably more easily digestible. After all, we’ve been surviving many surprises lately and traveling certainly taught us that there’s a way out of every situation.
For lunch, we wanted to follow a recommendation of the Lonely Planet for a change. Unfortunately the nice restaurant with the view from the top floor of the Sorya Shopping Center was closed. We still enjoyed the view. Heading to the food court further down, was not a very smart decision. With all the building works in the shopping center, it was not very full and lacked through put. Luckily just Sam and I took a slight fit from the food and were happy to stay in and around the hotel for a day. It could have been worse. Other travelers had told us much worse stories.

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There was also good news that week: on Thursday, we headed to the Russian consulate right at 8am when it opens. There was no line and within a couple of minutes we held our passports with nice Russian visa in our hands.
The celebrations took place in the nearby Aeon Mall. Due to the early hour, we toasted with hot tea and hot chocolate. When the mall opened a bit later, we checked it out. Quite frankly, it could have been located anywhere in Europe just as well. Apart from a couple of stores exclusively appealing to the taste of locals (such as the store full with Korean smiling animated figures), big malls seem to get globalized and exchangeable. The only way to distinguish the location of a Starbucks or KFC is to check out the menu where in addition to English, the local language might give away where you are. But latest when exiting the mall, haggling with a tik tuk driver about the price of the journey and being back on the road, it becomes pretty obvious that we're still in South-East Asia and not Europe.

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Having received our Russian visa, our mission of the trip to Cambodia and specifically Phnom Penh had been successfully accomplished. Consequently, we were ready to head off. Anyhow, with our eight nights in the same (great!) hotel, we had spent much more time there than all other guests. Most people left after two or maximum three nights.
After a very personal good bye ceremony from hotel staff, we boarded our bus to Siem Reap. We were seated comfortably in the big bus, being able to enjoy the vistas of the Cambodian countryside passing by. Two stops and six hours later, we reached Siem Reap, the main tourist destination of Cambodia due to its proximity to the World Heritage listed temples of Angkor Wat.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:00 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cow river rice museum pool visa mall bbq ferry news quad Comments (0)

Temples in the jungle

Siem Reap, Angkor Wat

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Siem Reap greeted us with hot, humid weather. We had thought that we had acclimatized well in Phnom Penh, but soon realized that Siem Reap’s heat was much less bearable.
The solution was easy: once Mr. Tommy (our tuk tuk driver) had dropped us at our hotel, we quickly changed and headed down to the pool. Lucky us, that we had booked a place with a pool again!

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That evening, we took it easy and did not venture out for dinner – even though the hotel even offered a free shuttle service into the center of town. We tried the hotel’s restaurant and were soon after ready for bed.
The next morning, we were a bit disappointed about breakfast. Having been spoiled by a large buffet selection in Phnom Penh, both size and quality of our breakfast did not reach that standard by any means. So we headed off hoping that we’d be finding some better food during the day.
Mr. Tommy was waiting for us already. We were excited to have him as a companion for the next couple of days. Being used to the tuk tuk drivers we encountered in Phnom Penh, it was a pure delight to talk with someone in English, who knows his way around and who even offers suggestions of his own. All of that at a daily rate of 15 USD - just perfect!
Our first stop was at the ticket counter getting three day passes for the Angkor Wat Archeological Park. At 62 USD per adult, prices for US American or Canadian National Parks seemed very tame in comparison. But, we wanted to see the place without having to rush through in a single day.
Mr. Tommy suggested us to start our tour with a quick look around Srah Srang, a royal bathing pool dating back to the 10th century. Its gigantic size of 700m by 350m surrounded by stone steps gave us already a first impression of the incredible size of buildings that have been undertaken in the area.

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From there, Banteay Kdei was just across the road. We were amazed once more by the sheer size of this monastic complex, despite the fact that our guidebook described as much smaller than other temples surrounding them. It was fun exploring the temple and finding our way through the various enclosures. While partially restored, parts of the temple looked rather deteriorated – which added a certain charm to the building.

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Seemingly it had been built using poor sandstone and not the best construction methods. We did not mind. It was a perfect introduction to Angkor’s many temples. And it featured much shade which was important in the mid-day heat. After a feast of fresh coconut juice, mango and pineapple, we were ready for further explorations.

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Our goal was to see the Ta Phrom temple. This is one of the most photogenic temples as it has been only partially cleared of jungle overgrowth. While partially restored, it had been intentional to leave most of the massive trees that had grown in the temple, creating a jungle-like atmosphere. We were impressed and even though I had never seen the ’Lara Croft‘ movie with Angela Jolie, it seems that Ta Phrom served as backdrop for several scenes.

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We were fascinated by the place and impressed to see how the jungle is claiming back what man cleared centuries earlier. Unfortunately, we were not the only ones impressed by it. While we wandered around rather aimlessly, we ended up in the middle of large tour groups twice. In both cases, we found a quiet corner and waited. Once the chatting and constant selfie and picture taking of the Korean and Chinese groups had ended as quickly as it came, we headed off again – largely undisturbed and having the place for ourselves and a couple of other tourists again.

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As much as we liked the place, the sun won today’s battle easily and we asked Mr. Tommy to take us back into town for lunch. We went to the Butterfly Garden, which is not only known for good food in a pleasant garden-like setting, but also for supporting local communities.

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After lunch, we headed back to the hotel and were thrilled to have a pool. Admittedly, I rather spend a bit of extra money to stay in a nice place offering a bit of comfort and luxury. The thought of returning from a hit day just to a tiny hotel room without any possibility to be outside is not really appealing to me. So we fully took advantage of the pool and stayed there for most of the afternoon and evening.
The next day, we took a break from visiting temples. While Max and I stayed at the hotel, Sam went motorbiking for half a day. He got to ride some single trails through remaining jungles. But between the stretches of jungle, most areas have been deforested. And the continued development with more and more roads being paved, caused tracks to be graded, which just a mere two weeks ago were still some nice offroad terrain.

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But Sam also enjoyed having the opportunity to watch some village life and a jungle temple that is not on the usual tourist route. Despite the fact that the half day ride was laid out for 4 hours, Sam and his guide La were back already after a bit more than three hours. And La could not resist commenting that he had not done that tour so fast for quite a while.

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In the afternoon, we headed out together again into town. After an excellent lunch at the very comfortable Blue Pumpkin, we checked out the old market. It was easy to get lost between the stalls, even though everything was organized in sections. The fruit and vegetable section was not very busy and we even detected a couple of sellers sleeping on the tables surrounded by their wares.

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Then there was the textile section which eventually turned into the souvenir section. In an attempt to keep our baggage light, we declined all offers to buy bronze buddha statues, wooden elephant carvings and even the pretty muesli bowls made from coconut shells featuring colorful insides.

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The meat and fish section tempted us even less to do some shopping. The dirty floor and the smells did not help to create an atmosphere where I’d trust the quality of the wares. That might be wrong – after all eating in restaurants probably implies that our food might originate from a market like that. Even though we did not buy anything, the market was a nice place to take pictures.

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There’s something that strikes me about today’s markets. No matter how small the stalls are, no matter how little basic hygiene there seems to be in many areas, no matter how slippery the floor might be. Nowadays at least one out of two salespersons seems to hold a smartphone in his / her hands, briefly distracted by customers and eager to return back to whatever they were checking out on social networks.

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To a certain degree that is disappointing, as it clearly signals that time has not stopped here and that things might not be stopped in time like we would sometimes like to imagine in our romanticized view of less developed countries. But practically speaking, this adds a freedom to look around the market stalls without the otherwise tiring firework of ‘Mister, mister, good price. How much you pay?’.
Filled with lots of impressions from the market, we headed across the road to a nice icecream shop. It’s interior design was well thought through and would have fitted as well in a downtown of any major European city. Well, except that in Germany we’d probably have paid three times as much than here for our icecream – even though the store was way above local standards in terms of pricing.

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But not only the market was a good source of photo opportunities: just driving along in traffic was providing so many fun sights that we were only able to capture a fraction of the inventive and packed vehicles we saw on the road. And we loved the small gas stations along the roads!

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By the time, we got back to the hotel, Aurel had arrived with his parents Thomas and Petra. They had stayed at the same hotel with us in Phnom Penh and as the boys got along so well, they booked the same hotel as us. Max and Aurel were delighted to meet again. And their parents were delighted to have such a good entertainment for their respective kid.
Even though Max would have been entertained as well in the hotel, we headed out for some entertainment of a different kind: We wanted to see Phare, the Cambodian Circus. Standing in line to get into the tent, we met Nadja, Remo, Ben and Lenny again – who had stayed with us in Phnom Penh a couple of days earlier. Similar to Western Australia, also in South East Asia many tourists seem to walk along the same trodden paths, so meetings like that did not really surprise us much. It was nice to see them.
But even better was the circus itself. It recruits its talents exclusively from a school for disadvantaged kids in a nearby town. And with the proceeds from the circus, the school is being supported such that 1200 kids are getting a free school education and another 500 are getting vocational training.
We did not really know what to expect of the circus, but were pleasantly surprised how the protagonists combined music, artistic performances and dance. All artists were fairly young and were teeming with energy. In a way, the closest I can compare them with is Cirque du Soleil – just on a bit smaller scale. And as we love the Cirque du Soleil, this was great.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 19:19 Archived in Cambodia Tagged temple market tree jungle circus pool motorbike tuk_tuk Comments (1)

Impressive, but crowded temples

Siem Reap, Angkor Wat

semi-overcast 35 °C
View Around the world 2016/17 on dreiumdiewelt's travel map.

We had taken our lesson from the first day sightseeing not to start sightseeing too late in an attempt to avoid the midday heat. Consequently, we went for breakfast at 6:30am and headed out with Mr. Tommy already at 7am.
Today we planned to check out the Bayon, one of the most famous temples in the Angkor Wat Archeological Park. In fact, the Bayon is the central temple of the Angkor Thom royal buddhist city which dates back to the 12th century. It is supposed to have been home for 1.000.000 people.
Already the approach to Angkor Thom was very impressive. There was a 100m (!) wide moat, then an 8m high wall (of a total length of 12 km) with an enormous entrance gate. The bridge leading to the entrance gate was lined with Buddha statues on both sides.

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The Bayon temple marks the exact center of Angkor Thom and is famous for its gigantic sculptures. In total there are over 216 huge smiling faces looking down at the visitors of the temple. So no matter where in the temple you are, there is always a ‘big brother’ watching you.

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Well, and in addition we had at least another 250 people watching us – probably a third Chinese, another third Korean and the last third all others. Especially the last and highest level of the temple was more than crowded and we were happy to descend again towards the quieter levels further down.

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In addition to all the tourists, there were lots of monkeys around – probably a result of being fed by eager tour guides who want to enable their guests to get great shots of the monkeys. We rather kept our distance. Since I had a monkey jump on my shoulder in a Balinese temple over 20 years ago, I have become extremely cautious with these animals.

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From the Bayon it was only a short walk to the Baphuon, While the temple is impressively big, being in the shadow of its famous neighbor Bayon makes it look rather pale in comparison. Still, there's one story about it that we could hardly believe: according to archeological best practices at the time, all stones of the temple had been taken apart, cleaned and when needed repaired or replaced in order to assemble the restored temple again. What seems straight forward was only made significantly harder due to the fact that all works halted during the reign of the Red Khmer and by the time works were recommenced, none of the plans on how to reassemble the 300.000 pieces were to be found anymore. That's what I'd call puzzling!

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From there we headed towards the Terrace of the Leper King and the Terrace of Elephants. We explored a bit, but eventually were just too tired and hot to continue much longer.

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When we left the area via the Western gate, we found an area of solitude. No cars were allowed along that dirt road and there were just a few tuk tuks and scooters using it. The wide moat was not tended as well as at the fancy Southern Entrance that is mainly used by tourists and there were even some waterbuffalo around.

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Along the back roads, we got to see once more some interesting vehicles that we’ll never be able to see in Europe. Mr. Tommy took a couple of short cuts and suddenly we found ourselves in front of our hotel.

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We had done enough sightseeing for the day, and used the remainder of the day to relax: we relaxed in the pool, had lunch in town and decided to get a massage. At 4 USD for half an hour massage, it’s a luxury we’re enjoying without having to spend huge amounts of money. And even though the fish massage would have been an even cheaper treat, we preferred to decline – being afraid of the tickling fish.

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Back home, the pool was the destination of choice again and thanks to Max and Aurel entertaining themselves, we had some time to relax ourselves.
We had left the best for last: On our last day of sightseeing, it was time to explore the temple of Angkor Wat which Guinness lists as the world’s largest religious structure. It is made from several million sandstone blocks weighing up to 1.5 tons. In total, there were more stones used in Angkor Wat than in all Egyptian pyramids combined. And all of these stones had to be transported over a distance of over 40km from the quarries. And while this is already an impressive statement, we were even more in awe when we read that the temple was built by 300,000 people with the help of 6,000 working elephants.

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Originally it was built as a Hindu temple, but then gradually converted into a buddhist temple. But this seemed to have gone both ways depending on the respective ruler’s afflictions: at the Bayon temple there had been Buddha carvings that had been converted into Hindu symbols by later kings. Contrary to most other temples in the wider Angkor area, Angkor Wat has been preserved better. It was always more or less actively used and never overgrown by the jungle.
In an attempt to avoid the crowds, we had opted to enter the temple from the Eastern entrance. And indeed, there were hardly any people around and we could enjoy the quiet atmosphere and solitude approaching the temple.

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Admittedly, we did not walk along all of the 800m of bas reliefs depicting various scenes of Khmer history and culture. After a couple of meters, we got the idea and rather headed into the temple than around.

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Getting closer to the inner sanctum, we finally hit the crowds again who had entered the building from the western entrance. There was a 30min queue to climb the ‘Bakan’ - highest part of the temple. We kindly declined and tried to find a quieter corner again.

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Close to where a couple of monks were holding ceremonies for local worshipers, we had a huge area for ourselves. At least for 5 minutes that is which is when a couple of Asian tour groups chose exactly that spot for doing their selfies and fun pictures to prove that they have been there. When some of them tried to sit next to us to have us in their pictures, it was time to flee once more.

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We headed outside, tried to do a couple of classical reflection pictures (which proved to be very hard due to the wind) and headed out. A bit more people watching and we left.

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Once more we rewarded ourselves for a successful day of temple sightseeing with an excellent massage and a relaxed lunch at the Blue Pumpkin before heading back to the pool.
A short rain shower did not stop us from taking a dip in the pool – it was hot and we were anyhow planning to get wet. Soon enough, our friends Thomas, Petra and Aurel arrived. We were treated to a pleasant surprise - a round of cool ‘Angkor’ beer. Sure enough, a second round followed before too long and beer continued to be the beverage of choice over dinner.

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While food was the same as always, we had some unexpected entertainment when suddenly a frog jumped from the roof onto Petra’s head and from there into the grass. We had lots of things to laugh about and it was a fun filled evening. We decided that we had to make sure we met again once more in Bangkok.
We left the next morning in a heavily packed tuk tuk to the airport and soon enough found ourselves in another Air Asia plane. It was time to wave good bye to Cambodia and to prepare ourselves for Thailand.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 23:16 Archived in Cambodia Tagged temple monkey pool crowd tuk_tuk massage Comments (1)

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