A Travellerspoint blog

Kompong Chhnang - top marks

overcast 32 °C

And there I was wondering what the place had to offer. We'd decided to make a stopover there on our way back to Phnom Penh. It was only three or so hours on the bus from Battambang and we arrived there in the early afternoon. We were greeted by a lone tuk-tuk driver touting for business and he hadn't even brought his tuk-tuk with him. This was a pleasant change from the usual hordes of tuk-tuk drivers that harass you as you step off the bus. Even though he was the only chap we still walked the 600m to the guesthouse we were checking out. We'd only gone 50m and he was back with his tuk-tuk shadowing us all the rest of the way. After checking in and unpacking I looked out the window and he was still outside waiting. You have to hand it to these guys, they sure work for their fares. I went outside to him and hired him for the afternoon.

First stop - lunch. Our driver brought us to a local noodle bar and the kids baulked at what was on offer. We asked our driver if there were any other options and mentioned a place we'd read about. It closed last year. In the end we settled for some street food - Chinese pork and egg dumplings, fried bananas and charcoal cooked corn on the cob. I knew then that we'd be returning to the noodle shop.

Second stop - the Vietnamese floating village. One of the reasons we'd decided to stop in Kompong Chhnang - in fact the only reason - was to visit the floating village. In truth there are a load of them, all sitting on the river around the town. Caroline haggled with a woman and eventually agreed on $13 for two boats. We were out on the water for about half an hour when the rain began. Our boatlady made for her houseboat where we took shelter for about 45 minutes. It was about the size of my sitting room but she lives there with her husband, daughter and seven other family members - all of whom were at home when we called. Their english was as good as my vietnamese so the conversation was stilted. They laughed at us and we laughed at them laughing at us. What a great way to spend an afternoon.

Afterwards we went to see some locals make pottery which was much more interesting than I've just made it sound. And as fate decreed earlier we dined in the noodle shop. During dinner the rains came and flooded the road outside. Some nice chaps with a 4x4 kindly gave us a lift home. All in all KC was much more eventful than expected.

Posted by goldenmaverick 06:58 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Birthday in Battambang

But no Battenberg!

sunny 30 °C

Today we celebrated Joe's tenth birthday. A leisurely breakfast was followed by a trip to the abandoned Pepsi factory just outside the town. Unfortunately we were met by a stern-faced security guard who wouldn't let us in or even take a picture of the outside of the factory. This is despite it being mentioned in every guidebook and article on Battambang. Up until recently you could walk into the factory which was abandoned in 1975 when the Khmer Rouge rolled into town. It's still stacked full of crates of empty Pepsi bottles and other local brand soft drinks that were maufactured there. Just as we were being turned away some bloke arrived in a large jeep, saw our plight, overruled the security guard and told us to go in but not into the factory itself. Top buzzer.

We had a quick look around the old colonial quarter of the city before we took the kids swimming in a place called the Victory Club. Someone obviously had a brainwave of developing an exclusive club and gym but its gone to pot over the years. Inside the building its really shoddy but the two outdoor pools have retained their glory. We spent a couple of hours in the pool even though the heavens opened for about half an hour of it. It wasn't dissimilar to the conditions the kids are used to in West Cork except it was about fifteen degrees warmer.

Joe picked a restaurant for his birthday party and the theme was western food. Pasta and burgers all around and despite my misgivings about eating such food when in Asia it was actually really good grub. It's called the Gecko cafe and it employs local disadvantaged young adults. Caroline managed to procure a sparkler style candle from a cake shop next door to add to the sense of occasion. A happy birthday was had.

To top things off we took a trip this evening to see the Phare Ponleu Selpak circus. It was originally set up around 20 years ago in a Thai border camp for Cambodian refugees. Its now headquartered in Battambang and works with a variety of socially disadvantaged youth. They were previewing a show that they're bringing to Germany and Denmark next month. It was fantastic.

We head to Kompong Chhang tomorrow. I'm not sure what's there but I'll be sure to let you know if there's anything of note.

Posted by goldenmaverick 08:06 Archived in Cambodia Comments (1)

Bamboo trains and bat caves

sunny 33 °C

On our second day in Battambang we've managed to squeeze a lot in. After a hearty breakfast we set off by tuk-tuk to the bamboo train a few kilometres outside the city. On arrival we were greeted by a rather portly member of the local tourist police. His main job seemd to be to tell us who we had to pay. It's usually easy to spot the boss in these parts - he's the fat one. After handing over our $20 we were off. 7km down a track that was laid in 1930 and its at least 30 years since an actual train ran on the line. The bamboo train is basically two sets of wheels that fit the rail gauge, the back set are powered by what looks like a motorcyle engine and a makeshift bamboo platform is placed on top of them. Its ingenious. Its beeen used to transport goods from outlying villages along the tracks to the market in Battambang. At some point in the past they discovered its tourist potential. There's been talk of it closing for several years but news of its demise is a little previous. They'll upgrade the line at some stage but there's still no definite end in sight judging from what information we could glean today.

After our 7km journey during which our train had to be lifted off the track half a dozen times to let other bamboo tarins pass, we arrived at a small village and were mobbed by children. They offered us refreshments and hand made goods (all for a price of course). They then took us to a brick factory to show us how bricks are produced locally. Pretty interesting but the boys had much more fun making things from clay and arm wrestling the local boys. Afterwards we headed back down the line to our start point and made sure to give our driver a few bob. It looks like the fat fella keeps most of the initial fee.

Our next stop was the only existing winery in Cambodia. Whilst there I sampled their red wine (poxy stuff), their brandy (less poxy), their ginger juice (terrible stuff) and their grape juice, which was the pick of the bunch, if you'll excuse the pun. Onwards to Wat Banan, another ruined Angkorian temple with lots of steps up to it. Following our descent we ate at one of the noodle stalls nearby, one of the cheapest lunches we've had in Cambodia this far and with the nicest girl running the show there. Top stuff.

The day was getting on and our next stop was the Cave of Skulls, known as such as it was used by the Khmer Rouge as a killing ground and subsequently used by the occupying Vietnamese forces to murder Khmer Rouge using the very same methodology ie bludgeon someone to death and push them down into the cave. The hill has since been the site of a Buddhist wat called Prasat Snoueng and from it you get an amazing view of the surrounding landscape. It's pretty much flat paddy fields in nearly every direction as far as the eye can see. From there we drove down the hill and witnessed one of the most amazing natural phenomenons. From a cave below, at around six every evening, millions of bats exit and fly off to feed on insects. It takes over an hour for all of them to exit and as they fly off into the distance it looks not unlike a murmuration of starlings. Amazing stuff.

It's Joe's 10th birthday tomorrow so we're getting into party mode here. That's actually a lie, I'm the only one still awake. At least I'm excited.

Posted by goldenmaverick 08:45 Archived in Cambodia Tagged train birthday bamboo bats Comments (2)

So long Siem Reap, bienvenue Battambang

sunny 32 °C

I'm on the bus heading for Battambang. The other option was to take the boat but at $25 a head versus $3.50 for the bus the bus won out. The real clincher was that the bus also takes less than half the time - 3 hours versus 7 on the boat. Siem Reap was nice but like Phnom Penh it didn't really feel like Cambodia. The two cities seem to cater to the western palate and as a result you could really just be in any big town in the world. Unlike in Laos our first couple of weeks has been frontloaded with visits to bigger towns or cities. In Laos we had a gradual introduction to the country, firstly seeing the Northern part before eventually making our way to the larger towns and cities. Here in Cambodia its like we spent only a few days in the provinces before hitting Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. That said this country is geographically a much smaller area and with obvious less ethnic diversity - besides some local tribes in the Mondulkiri province the bulk of the population is made up of Khmer and some Vietnamese and Chinese as always.

Our visit to the temples was pretty amazing. We got to see Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm in one day before the ennui set in. After a few temples you start to lose the bigger picture. Its like going to visit several cathedrals or several passage tombs one after the other. If I were an archaeologist, sociollgist or historian I'm sure I could spend weeks there but I'm not so therefore I can't. Throw four kids into the mix and that sorts that out. On top of that Rosie wasn't feeling well so we thought the best thing was to get back to the hotel by late afternoon and take things easy. A quick dip in the pool is always welcome respite for the kids as its been hitting 35 degrees here for the last few days.

Yesteday was spent resting and recuperating, buying postcards and stamps and generally tying up some loose ends. It also gave me time to finish reading 'Survival in the Killing Fields' by Haing Ngor. Its the story of his experiences under the Khmer Rouge regime and gives a thorough insight into the brutality instituted against both him and the wider Cambodian population. Its also interesting as the author played the part of Dith Pran in the movie 'The Killing Fields' and won an Oscar for the role. Recommended reading for anyone interested in that short part of Cambodian history. I've a few other books to read on the same subject and that's one interesting feature of the cities here. On every corner they are hawking photocopied versions of books on Cambodia and from wider popular cultute - think Mr Nice by Howard Marks. The best thing is the books are as cheap as chips. The worst thing is they have the odd page missing - usually a very interesting part or key event. Ah well, you get what you pay for.

After entertaining thoughts of getting visas for Vietnam we've knocked that idea on the head. We'd read about some amazing beaches just over the Cambodian border but as it would be at the end of our journey we'd have to fly back to Bangkok. After being quoted over €300 a head for the flights and the cost of the visas on top of that we've opted to head along the south coast of Cambodia back towards the Thai border. Hopefully we can find a nice beach in Thailand for the last few days of our trip. Countdown is already progressing with only 27 days until we return home. For some of the family I reckon it can't come too soon, for me I reckon I could go for a bit longer as I'm getting used to it now.

Posted by goldenmaverick 03:41 Archived in Cambodia Comments (5)

A word from Harry - Pt 3

sunny 32 °C

Yesterday we woke up at around eight and had breakfast then headed off to see temples.First we went to Angkor Wat and it was massive and amazing.When you think you've seen it all you find more to see and it felt like it would never end.Newt we went to another temple called Angor Thom that is even massiver than Angkor Wat and so big you have to drive around it.It was all overgrown a few years ago with forest that when they cut down all the trees growing on it so people could come vist it it was all kinda falling apart from roots growing and moving all the stone bricks.We didn't stay to long and only saw one of the many temples inside the Angkor Thom complex.After that we went to another temple that pretty much completely fallen apart so they had restored it.We didn't stay long there because it was very small and then we went back to where we are staying.We all rushed into are rooms threw open are bags and got on are swimming things and then ran down the stairs out the back door and jumped into the swimming pool.It felt amazing after being so warm earlier on in the 35 degree heat it was great to cool down.When we were all super wrinkly from the water we got dressed and headed out for dinner.We went to some place called the Khmer Kitchen and I had fried rice with vegetables and chicken as usual.When we got back to the place we are staying in everyone was dying so we all went to bed but I stayed up longer watching X-Men.
Written by HARRY

Posted by goldenmaverick 03:37 Archived in Cambodia Tagged harry Comments (1)

Wats it all about?

sunny 31 °C

On last evening in Phnom Penh there was a wedding going on next to our hotel. In this part of the world (well in Cambodia and Laos anyway), they put up a large tent at the side of the road, fill it with tables and chairs and get the party rocking. We stopped to have a look and whilst there we saw the bride flitting betweeen tables, granny on the dancefloor and a load of lads who'd had their fill of whisky. All in all not dissimilar to an Irish wedding except it all seemed to be over by half past ten. Sure things would only be gettting going at that stage at home.

We took the bus to Siem Reap yesterday and arrived a little after lunchtime. When we arrived at our hotel there was confusion over the booking. Not on our part mind you. The hotel had double booked our rooms and the others were already in situ in the rooms. They offered us some rooms in the hotel next door but Caroline stood firm and made them give us two rooms. This place has a pool and we'd promised the kids a dip after the journey. They managed to conjure up two rooms that we could squeeze into. When I walked past reception 15 minutes afterwards there were two irate French couples arguing with the hotel staff. They'd obviously given their rooms to us. It appears we'd got here in the nick of time.

We hopped in a tuk-tuk and headed out to Angkor Wat for sundown. It's so near to SiemReap its incredible really. We had a quick scoot around but we'll head back this morning for a more thorough look. It's only seven in the morning as I write but its already 30 degrees so I can only guess at how hot its going to get today.

I uploaded some more photos the other day. Be sure to have a look (and laugh at some).

Posted by goldenmaverick 17:14 Archived in Cambodia Comments (3)

Postcard from Phnom Penh

sunny 33 °C

We've been in Phnom Penh the last few days and its been great. The city traffic is a law unto itself but it seems to work. Anywhere in Europe and there would be a traffic jam but here everyone just weaves around eachother, it doesn't matter what side of the road you're on.

Yesterday we split up for a while and Harry and myself visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum whilst the rest of the family went to the Russian market. It was pretty heavy going - Tuol Sleng was formerly two schools which were then used by the Khmer Rouge as a place of incarceration and torture before the unfortunate 'traitors'were sent to the Killing Fields in Choeung Oek. There are graphic pictures of the last 14 vistims and a multitude of photos of other unfortunate victims, taken prior to their interrogation. Their faces tell it all. It was a harrowing experience for me, I'm not sure what Harry made of it all.

Later that day we went out to the Killing Fields outside Phnom Penh. I had always imagined a vast landscape where bodies were dumped - in reality it was little more than an acre with the remains of over 17,000 victims of the Khmer Rouge.

Today we kept it a little lighter. We visited the Royal Palace and whilst the kids went to the playground with Caroline I hit the National Museum. It was pretty interesting but the funny thing about the visit was that the rains came and all of a sudden the museum was surrounded by a three foot moat of water. I had to stay in there for about an hour until it subsided and i could walk out again. Great craic.\

We hit Siem Reap tomorrow for three days of Khmer temple overload. Angkor Wat beckons. Great stuff.

Posted by goldenmaverick 07:17 Archived in Cambodia Tagged phnom penh. Comments (2)

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