Boring bus journey

The girls and I are leaving Battenbang today, getting the same bus to Phnom Penh then I’m carrying on to the south for the beaches.
It was a pretty horrific journey in that it was a small mini bus, full. Which quickly turned into a sweat box of human.
I still had the dilemma of getting back to Hanoi for my already-changed-once return flight. I couldn’t find a flight that arrived at the airport in decent time for me to get my booked flight, as I only have 15 days visa and the day I’m leaving is day 16. They take these things very seriously I’ve heard. 
I then discovered there is an airport in Sihanoukville, where I’ll be for the next few days, and was able to find a flight back to Haikou on the 3rd March. Saves me trying to figure out which method of transport to get to Hanoi and the risk of being (apparently) jailed for over staying my visa! 
And I get an extra day on the beach!
I said farewell to Laura and Layla at Phnom Pen and alighted the next bus for Sihanoukville.
It’s a 10 hour bus journey from Battenbang to Sihanoukville. Fun times! 
Driving through Phnom Penh, there seems to be a strong Chinese influence, many shop signs are written in Chinese characters and Khmer.

A storm started kicking off during the last part of the journey, the lightning lighting up the whole sky.
Finally arrived in Sihanoukville at about 1930, I had no idea where I was, no wifi to check a map and all tuk tuks seem to have retired from the rain! Luckily an Aussie guy who was the only other westerner on the bus looked up my hostel and flagged down a tuk tuk for me. 

There are good people in the world!
I knew this hostel was going to be very basic, as I only booked it to stay one night because all the boats for koh ta Kiev leave in the morning, and obviously I arrived in the evening.

My greeting, if you can call it that, was almost like I disturbed the guy’s standing around. 
He showed me to my room, which looks like the kind of place people rent by the hour. There’s even a cigarette burn on the toilet seat! The toilet seat! 

I need to eat before settling in and planning my day for tomorrow, so I came back downstairs and started using the internet to find somewhere to eat. This is where the hostel worker decided to actually volunteer assistance and ask if he could help me, although done with a sigh and an air of nonchalance.
He recommended some restaurants and also told me they did food at the hostel, it’s still raining, I’m tired, so I resigned myself to ordering a chicken baguette. After all the rice and fish paste malarkey yesterday I need to go western! 

While I was waiting for my dinner I searched for places to stay on the island I wanted to go to. There are three places to stay on Koh Ta Kiev, as it’s a developing island (which is why I wanted to stay there) ranging from a deluxe £150 a night to a basic £20 a night. £20 a night is still expensive, but staying in a hut on a beach on an island with nothing to do for a few days is very desirable.

Wasn’t a bad sandwich, with some home made fries too! 
By the time I’d finished my sandwich, my next (and last) part of the trip was all booked. 


Battenbang with Bun

Laura, Layla and I booked to have a tour with Bun, the tuk tuk driver.
We arranged a 10am pick up because we are lazy, and then he offered us the chance of going to a Cambodian wedding. 
So at 0750 he’s picking us up from the hostel, stop off to pick up his mum, and head to the ceremony.

We stop for fuel, which is sold by the side of the road in pop bottles. I had been wondering what these were, and now I know!

We each get handed a plate of fruit, the bride can only come out and get married if there is enough fruit. 

We had to file out of the venue and line up in the street, then walk back in sitting opposite someone with the same fruit, dancers would then walk down the aisle and fill baskets with the fruit.

The fruit is offered to the bride’s family. 

There was enough fruit so the bride was allowed out! 

Bun started to show us how to eat the fruit we had at this point, I had some sort of berry which was like a lychee.

The bride and groom thank their parents.

And they were married!

And we had pictures taken with the newlyweds.

Time for a wedding breakfast feast!

Didn’t expect this this morning! 

We thanked the bride and groom for allowing us at their wedding and Bun whisked us away to the bamboo train. 

He told us they will be shutting the train down in two months even though it’s a huge tourist attraction.

It was a lot faster and scarier than I thought it would be. I was expecting a slow trundle through the paddy fields, instead it was like the scene out of Temple of Doom!

As it’s a single track but with two-way traffic, if you meet another train both stop and one gets dismantled off the tracks to allow the other to pass.

At the end of the line is a tiny village where it’s main income must be tourism, as it’s all cold drinks, t-shirts, bamboo souvenirs and young girls selling cotton bracelets.

Ride back along the tracks, at one point our driver abandoned the train, we only realized this when someone else jumped on and stopped us!

Bun was waiting for us.

He gave us the choice of temple or see how foods are made. We unanimously chose food, rice noodle making first.
Noodles made from rice flour are squeezed out into a pan of boiling water, once they have cooked they are transferred to cool water, then drained then put into another bowl of water for these ladies to fish out and pack ready to sell. 

Next we were taken to a village where they make bamboo rice. They stuff a section of bamboo with rice, coconut milk and black beans, stuff it with banana leaves and roast over a burning bamboo fire.

This tasted pretty good. Stodgy, but good.
The village had a Buddhist temple and Bun explained a little about the war which was only in 1975, not that long ago really.

Monkey Buddha seems a little violent to me.
Bun took us for some ice tea and explained a little more about the history and culture.

Fish paste making was the next stop. The malodorous breeze greets you as you come over the bridge, there are warehouses full of women chopping the fish into different sections and piling it high in mounds on the floor.

Holding our breath we walked through the sheds with the sound of knives hitting chopping boards, and the stench of fish in the heat.
The result of this work is this fish paste which is used in basically everything and is even referred to as ‘Cambodian cheese’. 

Further back up the road (but not far enough away from the smell) was a few carts selling various foods.

One was silk worms, cockroaches, crickets, and rat.

Rat didn’t look very appealing. 
Bun then bought us some traditional Cambodian cake, banana wrapped in rice wrapped in a banana leaf and barbecued.

I wasn’t able to eat this, the fish smell in my nostrils had enveloped and overwhelmed all my senses. I think we were all grateful to be moving onto the next place.
Dried banana chips/slices.

The bananas are grown here, slicesd into wafer thin slices and placed on a drying board. They become one giant sheet of banana. This would make an awesome vegan jerky!

These bananas are tiny.

I am saving all this food now as I’m stuffed!
Next we are taken to a rice wine maker. Everything seems so natural in the way it’s produced. Starts with natural ingredients, and blended to create a very potent spirit.
I couldn’t bring myself to try this having had rice wine in the past and knowing how volatile it is!

Laura and Layla had a taste and reported back that it was decent apart from the heartburn it brought on!

No one wanted the snake infused rice wine!
Our next stop was rice pancakes that are used in making fresh spring rolls. I love these and it was good to know they are literally rice and water. The process to make them seems monotonous.

One girl steams the pancakes on a cloth, the other puts them on the drying board. They do this all day! 

We were served one fresh and one fried, they were both amazing. Best spring rolls I’ve had!
This brought this part of our tour to a close. We had been with Bun since 0750 this morning and it was now 1500. 
He returned us to our hostel and we face planted our beds for an hour or so. At 1740 he returned to collect us to take us to the bat caves.

This was pretty awesome. Thousands of wrinkle lipped bats flooding out of their cave creating this dragon-like formation across the sky. 
Bun asked if we would like to return to the wedding to celebrate with the new couple, we had to decline as it was intended to be an all-nighter and we are moving on early tomorrow.
Last meal in Battenbang, we returned to the little food area on the water front, a bit done with rice after all the snacks we consumed throughout the day. We had a green curry (I ordered red but the owner basically told me it’s too hot for me!) it was nice, but all I could think of was the fact that I now knew they used the fish paste as a base for the curry, and that scent filled my nostrils once more!

Battenbang bound

Leaving Siem Reap for Battenbang today. Met Laura and Layla on the bus who had also been staying in the same hostel as me. 

Once we arrived at Battenbang we shared a tuk tuk to the Ganesha hostel.

We dumped our stuff in our rooms and went for a walk to find food. We found a place which had plenty of locals in, so we figured it must be good. It was decent, although there is a lack of coconuts here! 
After waking early and a hot bus ride we were all ready for a lay down, although it’s so hot here none of us napped. I did have a look around the market as I wanted to buy bottles of water, I’m sure I ripped a little old lady off, she told me six bottles were $1.85, so that what I gave her, but she seemed miffed. No one stopped me walking off with them though! 
When we were bored of trying to sleep and it had cooled down slightly we showered (I washed in a bucket) and head out to find more food, picked up another solo female traveler, Laura from Cheltenham. 

We walked along the riverside and took our lives into our hands crossing the road to where the cheap eats were. $1.50 for food is good! 

Found the biggest avocado I’ve ever seen!

We did have a look for a bar to have a few drinks in but this is a really small village so everything seemed shut by about 2100, so we enjoyed some Cambodia beer back at the hostel.

Where we also saved a frog from the kittens.

Early night to explore Battenbang via tuk tuk tomorrow.

Bush Tucker Trials

I have finally booked a bus and hostel in my next destination, Battenbang.
What happens after that is anyone’s guess.
I met Aussie Ben for breakfast in the restaurant opposite my hostel, and he suggested the cinema as it was air conditioned and actually showing current movies! So here I am in Cambodia watching Lego Batman! 
When we emerged from the cinema it looked like it had been raining. We had managed to miss the storm! 
We had a little wander around the markets but seeing as neither of us want souvenirs, it gets boring pretty quick. 
People selling insects to eat on the street.

After lunch I met up with Miles and we went back to the cafe with Predator outside to have a chocolate milkshake. 

Here we met Elise from Boston and Miles dragged us to the Bug Cafe, he seems to have a craving for invertebrates since he saw them sold in the street!

I was only partially ready to eat insects. I was still full from lunch and milkshake and had no idea what to expect.

We ordered a platter which had a selection of everything the restaurant had to offer, Spring rolls with ants, which were tasty and you wouldn’t really know there was ants inside, Tarantula samosas, not too bad, and silk worm savory cupcake, which was tasty. 

Miles and Elise managed way more than me, but at least I tried what I could! 
Ben came to join us and Miles left to catch his flight, Ben had heard of a hip hop night in one of the bars on pub street.

Was pretty good, there was even a rapper they had shipped in from the U.K. I had never heard of him before, but it’s not like I’m an avid follower of the U.K. Hip hop scene.

This was my last night in Siem Reap and I am sad to be leaving, I am really enjoying Cambodia so far. 

Desired chill out day

After all the temple walking I was ready for a day of doing very little, maybe sit in a cafe and watch the world go by and possibly a massage…
Miles is staying at a 5 star hotel with his family, which has a pool. So a day chilling by the pool would be perfect. 

This was nice while it lasted. Or at least until Miles got bored of sitting around!

We hired a tuk tuk just to take us to town for some lunch, the driver offered to take us to see the sights and said he would wait for us while we have our lunch.
I had suggested the Cambodian BBQ place as it sounded a bit different. 

You have a big metal cooker put on the table with a load of vegetables and some pork fat.

They pour in stock and butter and you have a selection of meats to cook on the dome.

We had all the usuals, chicken, beef, pork. Then some unusuals, crocodile, shark, and swordfish.

It was pretty good, but there’s something about eating bitty food, doesn’t quite do it for me. 
This particular restaurant is on Pub Street, where various beggars come to you at your table while you are trying to eat. This doesn’t make for the best dining experience.
Once we’d settled the bill, which took longer than needed as none of our twenties were good enough, (establishments won’t take your notes if it’s crumbled or torn or written on, which is crazy. It’s money) we went back to our tuk tuk driver and he took us to the war museum, which personally I had no intention of visiting, but it was pretty enjoyable. Mainly by the big kid Miles playing with all the guns and even suggesting I pose with some artillery. 

Yeh, I felt stupid. But it lightened the mood a little, some of the info at this museum is really dark. Like most of the equipment was tiny, because it was built for children to operate. There were photos of children in full war gear. And the free museum guides were war veterans. Just a bit disturbing.
We were taken to the Killing Fields next, again, a place I wouldn’t really want to visit as although it’s an important part of the history of this country, I don’t like the horror of it.
They have built a stupa which contains the skulls and bones they have found so far from the mass genocide.

When we walked around, there were Buddhist monks living in the area. It seemed to be washing day as there were a lot of orange sheets on the washing lines.

I was done with history after all this. It makes me feel a bit sick that so many people died needlessly.
We found a candy shop, just to add a bit more diversity to the day.

You can watch them make the candy right there in the shop!
After this Miles went back to meet his family for a show, and I walked back to my hostel, but not before stopping for an ice cream.

I am attempting to plan the rest of my time here in Cambodia, but every time I sit in a cafe and get my books out I get distracted or side tracked by all the possibilities!
As today was meant to be relaxing I thought I would indulge in a massage. Massage by the blind are popular here, I went with the one that was recommended in the book as apparently there are some places that exploit the blind, and I wasn’t about to support them.
It was a bit of a surreal experience, it was a male masseur, which I’ve never had before, coupled with the obvious fact he was blind.
He definitely knew what he was doing, and was quite firm on my poor temple-tired legs. 
Bit of a weird moment when he asked me to lay on my back, opened my legs and got up onto the table to massage the tops of my thighs!

He also massaged my stomach which isn’t really done anywhere else, he dug the heels of his hands into my belly, and pressed on pressure points I didn’t know were there.
Once my massage was complete I was saturated with oil, which did keep the mosquitoes off! I went back to the restaurant opposite my hostel for food with the intention of eating, showering then napping. 
I then made friends with an Australian, Ben. So we had dinner together and swapped travel stories. He’s been to Battenbang which is my next destination, so he was able to offer some suggestions for tours and places to stay.
After dinner I definitely had to wash this oil off. It was Miles’ last night so we met on Pub street to enjoy some last drinks in Siem Reap.
The Irish bar was quiet and away from the booming of pub street so we spent most of the night there until they closed and we were kicked out. We then found a cafe with Predator outside!

But it was closed, we stumbled across a sports bar, when we asked what time they closed they said ‘When the customers leave’. So clearly we were drinking here! They were still serving food too, so I did have a bacon sandwich. Just because I could! 

By now it was past one in the morning. Time to sleep. Tomorrow is my last full day in Siem Reap and I still haven’t properly planned my next move! 

Temple Run

I booked a tour to take me to the Angkor temples, pick up at a reasonable 8am, not so reasonable when you woke at 5am.
After much faffing about at the tour office, we were finally loaded into mini vans and taken to the temple ticket office.
One horrible photo later I have my day pass. 

Arrived at the temple, Angkor Wat, our guide gave us a brief history.

This wall carving represents a story of Hinduism using snake and mountain to churn the sea to dry it up to get holy water.

We were then taken to the hall of 1000 Buddha statues. Except there are now about 40 left and they are mainly missing heads and hands which makes them pretty creepy looking.

Swimming pool of the gods.

We were left to wander around a bit.

The tour said it would provide water, with the amount I drink I wasn’t going to rely on that. I’m glad I didn’t. 

We did stop in the shade for a drink, not included. An ice cold coconut was called for! 

We then moved onto the next temple.

The Tomb Raider temple.

A carving of a ‘dinosaur’.
Onto the temple with all the heads, Bayon.

Some Buddhist monks were visiting the temple.

 The tour guide took some funny photos of us with the faces.

Buddha with a rather disturbing make up job. 

Last stop, temple to watch the sunset.
And elephants.

This last temple is a 15 minute walk up a hill, then up some steep steps, onto the top. 

That was me done for the day! 
Waited about 3 hours to watch the sun go down. Can’t say it was really that impressive. Glad I’ve done it.

Real treat was when I walked back down the hill, the elephant was still there and the tour guide took pictures of me with her! 

Made my day.
Was a really good tour group, everyone chatted with one another and took a shine to the solo female traveler. With most of them encouraging me to keep traveling as long as I can! 
Don’t mind if I do!
Finally made it back to the hostel completely cream crackered, went in the shower with my clothes on seeing as they needed washing too!
Once I’d freshened up, went across the road to have some food, ordered a Khmer curry. Honestly, the best meal I’ve had since being in Asia! 

Sooo good!
Now I’ve refueled, time to have a look into where I want to go once my time in Siem is over…

Cambodia, Siem Reap

Good Morning Cambodia! 

It’s warm here! And it’s still only spring! 

Wanted to find some fruit for breakfast before I passed out from hunger, found a mini market which didn’t sell fruit, but helped myself to a yogurt drink and some cashews. 

Got really confused when the cashier asked for dollars, then gave me change in Reil.
I thought I was heading back to my hostel, and got extremely lost! The sun is blazing down so I thought it best to duck into a cafe bar with wifi to find my way back. 
The bar I found was called Sinn Sisamouth Cafe, I ordered myself a fresh coconut and they informed me the power was down. That obviously included the wifi!

Got chatting to a British guy who lives here, he says it happens a lot! 
He gave me advice on the currency, where to buy fruit, the best places for food. All the kind of stuff a newbie in town needs! 
He also knew how to get back to my hostel, which was obviously handy! 
Electric came back on and I was able to download my map (you would think I would know to do this before leaving a hostel by now!) 

The guide book suggested to cover up in Cambodia, so I did. It’s hot and everyone else is wearing shorts, so I’m changing! 
I don’t usually hang around hostels, I’d rather actually go to cafes and meet people that way, but seeing as this hostel has a lovely seating area on the roof, it’s a good place to chill and attempt to plan what to do over the next few days.

Hanging at the hostel was short lived seeing as they close the area at 1400! A bit weird. But I’ve done what I needed to do sitting in the shade and can have a wander around now it’s a little cooler. (33 degrees cool!)

Passed a market on my way to finding a cafe.

And art shops.

I have a feeling this is a place I should have brought my sketchbook!

I read a positive review on the New Leaf Eatery, it does a mix of Cambodian (Khmer) and Western food, and supports the community.

Had a chick pea salad and a juice made from beetroot, carrot, ginger and mint.
This went down well, and I spent the afternoon sitting here switching between reading a novel, a guide book and researching random off-the-beaten-track things to do in Cambodia. I did find pony trekking which looked good, so emailed them. 

I noticed they had chocolate tart on the menu at this restaurant, seeing as I’ve been deprived for so long, I wanted to indulge!

It was pretty decent. 

By the time I left the cafe the sun had started to go down, my plan was to actually go have a shower and a nap then venture back out in the evening for dinner. 

I had been fiddling with my Couchsurfing and Backpackr app to see if there was anyone around, and a guy called Miles messages me saying he’s in the art market.

By this time I was back at the hostel and someone was in the shower. So my options were have a nap or go meet this new person.
So back out I went.

Miles is from the USA, but lives in the Philippines and is also traveling. His family have come to meet him here for a holiday. 

They very kindly invited me to dinner with them.
Later, Miles and I discovered Pub Street. That’s as original as it gets here in Cambodia! 

Not that tacky, just loud, and overpriced (but still cheaper than back home) we had a few drinks in the Banana Leaf, but there was live music and no escape from it. Then we found an ‘Irish’ pub. Which was showing the Ospreys on tv! 

Miles insisted we took a tuk tuk back to our relative hotels, even though my hostel is literally down a dirt track and the poor driver didn’t know where it was!

Early start tomorrow for the temples!