Saturday, April 24, 2010

Day 176 – Thailand to England

March 30, 2010 – Bangkok, Thailand to London, England

Whew – we’ve made it to London… and so has our luggage.

We hop on the Tube and make our way to my friend Erin’s place, where we’ll be staying for the next few days. After 6 months of being a foreign face in a foreign place, it’s wonderful to see a good friend and have a real home to crash in – THANK YOU ERIN!!!

Once we get the lowdown on her place, we do some laundry and take a nap. Then it’s off to meet Anne - aka. “Eric’s Mom” – for dinner.

Talk about excitement – I know Eric has been looking forward to this for a long time and so have I.

The reunion is fabulous – the minute we see her, Anne pulls us into a full-on 3-person bear hug which is exactly what we needed!!!

We spend the rest of the evening catching up in a pub near London Bridge.

the Bangkok Express

The following takes place between 18:00 and 23:45 on Monday, March 29, 2010.

18:00 – Eric & Robyn come home after a pleasant walk through Bangkok’s flower district. They have enjoyed a nice dinner of braised pork & rice and are planning on having a relaxing night in.

18:17 – Eric confirms their flight from Bangkok, Thailand to London, England. It is scheduled to leave at 00:45 on Tuesday, March 30, 2010.

18:19 – Eric & Robyn discuss their plans for their final day in Bangkok. They will check out of their guesthouse at 12:00 on Tuesday, March 30, 2010. They plan to catch the 18:00 airport bus, which will give them plenty of time to check-in and go through customs. To kill the time in the afternoon, they will go see another movie and do some last minute errands.

18:34 – Robyn has a shower.

18:35 – Eric starts packing his large backpack.

18:52 – Eric calls his father in Ontario, Canada. The time difference is -12 hours, so it is now 06:52 on Monday, March 29, 2010.

19:24 – Eric & Robyn start playing a game of Skip-Bo.

19:47 – Robyn wins Skip-Bo.

19:52 – Eric calls his mother in Ontario, Canada one more time before they will see her in London, England. They finalize the details on where and when to meet her. Her flight is schedule to leave Toronto at 23:00 on Monday, March 29, 2010 and will arrive in London at 11:25 on Tuesday, March 30, 2010. Since Eric & Robyn’s flight will be arriving in London at 07:15 on Tuesday, March 30, 2010 and all of them will want time to freshen up and have a nap beforehand, they agree to meet her in the lobby of her hotel at 17:30 the same day.

20:05 – Robyn calls her friend Lisa in Ontario, Canada.

20:06 – Eric has a shower.

20:41 – Robyn starts packing her large backpack.

20:42 – Eric finishes packing his large backpack.

20:43 – Eric starts reading. He’s almost through his book and his hoping to finish it before they fly to London.

21:04 – Robyn takes a break from packing and starts reading her book.

21:26 – Eric goes to brush his teeth.

21:27 – As Eric is brushing his teeth, he starts thinking.

21:29 – Eric asks himself “how is it possible that my Mom is scheduled to leave Toronto 13 hours before we leave Bangkok and yet arrives 4 hours after we land in London, when her flight is only 7 hours long and ours is almost 13 hours long?”

21:31 – Eric walks back to the bedroom to ask Robyn this question but unfortunately his mouth is filled with Listerine.

21:32 – Eric walks back to the bathroom and spits.

21:33 – Eric walks back to the bedroom, again, and asks Robyn “how is it possible that my Mom is scheduled to leave Toronto 13 hours before we leave Bangkok and yet arrives 4 hours after we land in London, when her flight is only 7 hours long and ours is almost 13 hours long?”

21:34 – Eric & Robyn think about it and look at each other perplexed.

21:35 – Eric & Robyn hypothesize about the time differences and the international dateline, but they both come to the conclusion that flying back across time zones is different than actually travelling back in time.

21:36 – Eric pulls out their flight itinerary and rechecks their departure time.

21:36 – Robyn says “don’t make that face – you’re making me nervous”.

21:36 – They look at each other and the “light” finally goes off.

EDITORS NOTE: For some reason, Eric & Robyn had it in their thick little heads that 00:45 on Tuesday, March 30, 2010 meant Tuesday night going into Wednesday morning, when in actuality it was Monday night going into Tuesday morning. Therefore, they’ve just realized that their flight is scheduled to leave in a little over 3 hours.

21:37 – Panic.

21:38 – Still panic but now Robyn starts stuffing whatever she can find into her large backpack, while Eric runs downstairs and explains to the owner of the guesthouse what their situation is.

21:39 – Eric asks the guesthouse owner if he has someone who can drive them to the airport or whether it’s better for them to flag down a cab on their own. The guesthouse owner says either way will work, which is ironic because for the last 6 months every hostel and guesthouse Eric & Robyn have been staying at have been trying to sell them their own stupid products and services, but the one time they actually need someone to help them out, they’re being “hummed & hawed” at.

21:40 – Eric politely reiterates his current predicament and the guesthouse owner says he’ll make a phone call.

21:41 – Eric tells Robyn what’s going on and finishes packing his carry-on bag.

21:42 – The guesthouse owner says his friend can drive them but it will cost around 400 baht. Eric says “that’s fine”, re-emphasizes that they need to get to the airport fast and hands him the money.

21:43 – Robyn brings her bags down to the front lobby. Eric does a very bad “idiot check” of the room and brings his bag to the lobby.

21:44 – The guesthouse owner says his friend will be there in 15 minutes. Robyn nearly has a heart attack because in SE Asia 15 minutes typically means 30 minutes or “whenever we’re ready”. Eric calms her down and tells her everything will be just fine.

21:50 – The taxi arrives and they load up their bags. The hostel owner gives the driver instructions.

21:51 – The taxi drives off.

21:52 – Eric & Robyn have flashbacks to their taxi ride in Indonesia – see blog entry “Maybe It’s Me” – and confirm the driver knows where the airport is. He does.

21:55 – City traffic is slow… f***ing red shirt protesters.

22:00 – Eric & Robyn have a giggle fit over the situation.

22:03 – Eric makes the mistake of looking at the check-in procedures on his ticket and reading the line “please check-in at least 2 hours prior to departure or you may be denied boarding”.

22:04 – Eric makes the mistake of pointing this out to Robyn.

22:05 – Without trying to alarm the driver, Eric inquires about how long it will take to arrive at the airport. The driver says it should only be about 30 or 40 minutes. Eric and Robyn look at each other.

22:05 – The driver, having sensed the fear in Eric’s voice, steps on the gas.

22:06 – The taxi is now driving 120km/h, which is about 40km/h over the speed limit.

22:35 – The taxi pulls up to the airport. He earns himself a nice fat tip.

22:43 – Eric & Robyn check-in.

22:47 – Eric & Robyn have another giggle fit.

22:55 – Eric & Robyn clear customs.

22:56 – Eric & Robyn now go on a shopping spree to use up the remainder of their Thai baht, which is a significant amount considering they were planning another full day in Bangkok.

22:57 – Eric realizes he forgot his toothbrush… 5 baht down, 2995 baht to go.

23:09 – Eric & Robyn buy 3 boxes of Tim Tams, a bottle of Thai rum, a bottle of wine and deodorant… it’s party time.

23:43 – Eric & Robyn finally sit down at their departure gate, having accomplished their mission. They have yet another giggle fit.

23:45 – Eric makes the mistake of saying "I hopes they don't lose our luggage".

Days 173-175 – Thailand

March 27-29, 2010 – Bangkok, Thailand

We spend our last few days in Bangkok – and Southeast Asia for that matter – visiting our favourite spots, which are mainly food stalls, and doing some last-minute errands, such as buying new jeans so we’ll blend in when we get to London.

But we also take in a few extra sights…

We go for a stroll past the King of Thailand’s palace on our way to check out the largest weekend market in Bangkok. The market is massive and is completely overwhelming – Eric barely lasts 45 minutes before he’s ready to go.

On Sunday we go see “Alice and Wonderland” in 3D. The experience was nice but the movie was just okay – is anyone actually impressed by this so-called “new 3D technology”?

On Monday we go for a nice walk through Bangkok’s flower district, which is probably one of the best-smelling streets in all of SE Asia.

And of course, we do all of this while trying to avoid the red shirt protests, which is easier said than done – no matter what we do, 9 times out of 10 we seem to end up smack dab in the middle of it. Fortunately, at this point the protests have more of a street festival / block party feel instead of a Toronto City Union Worker’s strike feel.

Luckily for us, we manage to get out while the getting’ was good… see blog entry “The Bangkok Express".

Day 172 – Thailand

March 26, 2010 – Koh Chang to Bangkok, Thailand

We wake up to the sound of rain beating down on our tin roof.

We’ve been in SE Asia for almost 6 months now and up to this point, we’ve experienced maybe 4 days of rain in total. And when I say “days” I mean a couple of hours late in the afternoon when we’re typically siesta-ing anyway. So you can imagine our surprise when we stare out our door and see the sidewalk flooded and buckets of water pouring off our balcony.

Neither of us feels like getting our packs or ourselves wet, especially considering we have a long journey back to Bangkok today. So instead, we try to wait it out.

Well, as most of you know Eric and I are not always the most patient people when we have a plan in mind, so we only last about half an hour before we decide “to hell with it – let’s brave the rain”.

We wade through what used to be the street but is now presently a river and make our way to the main road to catch a sawngthaew to the port. After some major negotiations with the driver we’re able to keep our bags with us – he was insisting we put them on the tarpless roof, while we were content to balance them on our laps… it’s a long story – ask us about it over a drink, your treat.

We make the ferry just in time and our journey back to Bangkok is relatively painless, unless you count the bus not stopping until we’re half an hour outside of Bangkok at which point the driver decides to take his break at the designated over-priced restaurant, the extra 3 hours it takes us to drive through the city because the “red shirt protesters” are blocking most of the major roads and the bus driver not stopping at the advertised destination of Khao San Road because he wants to drop us off in front of the hotel he gets a kickback for bringing tourists to.

Other than this, the ride was fine.

We finally show up to our guesthouse and thankfully they haven’t given away our room, despite us being over 2 hours late. The owner remembered us from previous stays and made sure to save it for us… she’s an angel.

We drop off our bags and head to one of our favourite food stalls for dumplings and dumpling soup.

Ahhh, happiness is….

Days 166-171 – Thailand

March 20-25, 2010 – Koh Chang, Thailand

For the next 6 days we are going to settle into a beach existence. But before we do so we need to take care of one very important matter…

We must buy a hammock.

After all, no self-respecting beach bum can exist without one.

This being achieved, everything else is just details. Here’s a breakdown of our daily routine while on Koh Chang:

- Wake up when we wake up and then chill out before breakfast.

- At 10:00am our breakfast place of choice, the Stone Free bar, opens. It’s time for some fruit, yogurt & muesli.

- After breakfast we return to our hut and prepare for the beach.

- We walk to the beach and spend the next few hours swimming, reading, sitting, sitting, reading, swimming, reading, swimming, sitting and so on and so forth.

- We head home from the beach between 3:00pm-4:00pm.

- While preparing for cocktail hour, we rotate turns lounging in the hammock.

- Cocktail hour starts around 4:30pm over a friendly game of Skip-Bo… on the menu is Gin & Tonics, Scotch and chips, and occasionally there’s also Oreos.

- Dinner happens between 5:30pm-7:00pm, depending on how hungry we are and if we’re meeting friends.

- After dinner we stroll around the town, which isn’t very big, so we end up doing it twice.

- We grab a drink and quickly check the Internet.

- We head back to our hut to read, watch TV or play Skip-Bo.

- Around 10:30pm we fall asleep to the distant sound of bad cover bands until we’re woken up to drunken idiots between 3:00-4:00am.

- It’s back to sleep and then begin the routine again.

It’s a rough life, but somebody’s gotta do it.

What Wat is What?

What is a “Wat”?

A Wat is the name for a temple monastery in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, and there are literally hundreds of them throughout these three countries.

Some are very simple and humble, while others are elaborate and grandiose.

Some are new, while others have been around for centuries.

Some you’ve never heard of, while others are iconic and known around the world.

For instance, there’s Wat Phra Mahathat in Ayuthaya, Thailand.

It’s a Buddhist temple and was built in the former capital of Thailand. Historically it’s known for containing one of the first Khmer-style praang (or stupas) built in the capital, but it’s most famous for this Buddha head, which has been engulfed by the tree root.

Then there’s Wat Si Saket in Vientiane, Laos.

It’s a Buddhist temple and was built in 1818 by King Anouvong (Chao Anou). It’s the oldest temple in Vientiane and is famous for its small niches which contain over 2000 silver & ceramic Buddha images and over 300 seated Buddhas made of wood, stone & bronze. Most of these are from the 16th-19th century Vientiane but some come from 15th-16th century Luang Prabang.

And finally, there’s the mother of all Wats… Angkor Wat, near Siem Reap, Cambodia.

It’s a Hindu temple and is the largest religious building in the world. It was built between the years 1112-1152 by Suryavarman II to honour the Hindu god Vishnu. Its central tower rises 55m above ground and is surrounded by 800m long bas-reliefs depicting “Churning of the Ocean of Milk”. These reliefs contain 88 asura (demons) and 92 deva (gods). Angkor Wat is part of a series of hundreds of temples that represented an empire stretching from Myanmar (Burma) to Vietnam. It is the heart & soul of the Kingdom of Cambodia and is featured on everything from the Cambodian currency to their national brand of beer.

Of course, then we have this Wat, which is located in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

As you’ll notice, it’s a Buddhist temple and seems to be very ornately decorated. There’s a large golden Buddha near the front and a well-tended garden surrounding the main worshipping area.

But wait a second… what is that near the bottom of the picture?

Is that a statue of Donald Duck?

Why yes, yes it is… how about that?

Now I’m not sure of the name of this temple, but for some reason I think there’s a good chance it might be…

Wat Disney.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Day 165 – Cambodia to Thailand

March 19, 2010 – Kampot, Cambodia to Koh Chang, Thailand

Today Eric and I journey back to Thailand with plans to enjoy a week of good old-fashioned beach time.

Although the journey turns out to be a lot more complicated than we anticipated, we are able to get further than planned – we actually make it to our desired destination, Lonely Beach on Koh Chang, in one day.

All it takes is a van ride to the bus station in the border town of Koh Kong, a tuk-tuk to the Cambodian-Thai border, a walk across the border, a mini-bus to the Trat bus station, a sawngtheaw to the Koh Chang ferry terminal, a ferry to Koh Chang and a sawngtheaw to Lonely Beach.

Thankfully a nice Canadian we meet on the bus from the Thai border and who is now a part-time resident on Koh Chang takes us under his wing and helps us find a great place to stay… all it costs us is a beer, which as we Canucks know is priceless.

Days 163 & 164 – Cambodia

March 17 & 18, 2010 – Kampot, Cambodia

The next two days are spent doing a lot of nothing – Cambodia has been a lot of fun, but after 5 ½ months of travelling, we’re in the mood for some down time.

We spend a lot of time hanging out at the Epic Café, which is a not-for-profit café that supports hearing impaired and disabled Khmer youths. We have two amazing new flavours of fruit shakes at the café – lemon & mint and pineapple & cinnamon.

We also make another discovery – we finally figure out the name of a great noodle dish we’ve been enjoying throughout Cambodia – Lat Cha noodles. They’re very similar to the pearl noodles we had in Malaysia – kind of like white earthworms – but are served with some fried meat, vegetables and topped with a fried egg… delicious!

Day 162 – Cambodia

March 16, 2010 – Battambang to Phnom Penh to Kampot, Cambodia

We spend the entire day on buses getting ourselves from Battambang to Kampot.

Unfortunately, there are no direct routes so we find ourselves going via Phnom Penh where we transfer to another bus that eventually takes us to Kampot via the town of Kep… which is kind of like going from Toronto to Brampton via Oakville.

Day 161 – Cambodia

March 15, 2010 – Battambang, Cambodia

Our first full day in Battambang is packed full of goodness.

We start off by taking a cooking course with Vannack at the “Smokin’ Pot Restaurant”. It’s just Eric and I in the class, so we get some great two-on-one time with him.

We begin with a trip to the market to look for fresh fish. And you can’t get much fresher than the fish we pick – the fishmonger kills and de-scales it right in front of us! Vannack is a great teacher – he shows us all around the market and puts names to a number of items we’ve previously seen, but had no idea what they were. We grab our goods and then head back to the restaurant to begin cooking.

First we make stir-fried pork with basil – a simple dish, but a good dish. Eric and I are a little humbled when we find out 2 chilis is about the maximum of our spice threshold, whereas Vannack would typically START at 6 chilis.

The next dish is sour fish soup with fresh tamarind. This one sounds a bit more complicated, but again, it’s surprisingly easy. Vannack won’t come right out and say it but he thinks my soup is more successful.

Finally we end our lesson by cooking a traditional Khmer dish of beef lok lak, which is cubed beef in a pepper sauce served on salad. You pick it up with a piece of lettuce like you would a fajita, and enjoy!

After all the cooking and eating we roll back to our hotel for a quick rest before meeting up with Moonie, the tuk tuk driver we hired to take us to Banon Temple and Phnom Sampeau.

We meet up with Moonie mid-afternoon and find out he has an entire agenda already planned for us, so we climb in his pimp-mobile and off we go.

Moonie is a really nice man – he’s very proud of his country and wants us to know all about it. He takes us along back roads through villages along the Mekong, stops at a few suspension bridges, gives us a lecture on political relations between Cambodia and Thailand, stops at a vineyard, detours to a viewing spot for hanging bats before taking us to our first stop, Banon Temple. A lot of the locals claim Banon Temple is the inspiration for Angkor Wat and although it’s a beautiful temple at the top of a steep hill, we kind of think that theory is a stretch. The last stop of the day is Phnom Sampeau, which is another Buddhist temple spread across a large hill complex. The temple itself is not that impressive, but the views it offers are amazing!!!

We finish our day by watching millions of fruit bats fly out of a cave in Phnom Sampeau and out into the sunset.

The ride home is a dusty one, along an unpaved road – our newly-purchased karmas save the day!!!

Day 160 – Cambodia

March 14, 2010 – Siem Reap to Battambang, Cambodia

Off we go to Battambang!

Eric and I arrive in the town centre and are greeted by a mob of taxi drivers, hotel owners and tuk-tuk drivers all happily offering to help us to find the best hotels, which as luck would have it, are the ones they just so happen to work for. We eventually manage to untangle ourselves and begin our own hotel search, which is not as easy as it sounds.

When we arrive at our first choice, it’s closed… I guess it’s time for “Plan B”.

Luckily “Plan B” still exists and it turns out to be a good place for us to set up shop for the next day or so.

The rest of the afternoon we stroll around the hot streets of Battambang and enjoy not one, but TWO delicious fruit shakes each. These shakes are probably some of the best shakes we have had all trip, which says a lot considering we have had around a ba-zillion shakes in SE Asia.

Top flavour choice?

Banana, pineapple and soursop.


A Question...

If a Hawaiian burger has no pineapple, is it still a Hawaiian burger?

Think about it.

Days 158 & 159 – Cambodia

March 12 & 13, 2010 – Siem Reap, Cambodia

Today is the big day!

After much deliberation, Eric and I decide to brave bikes again for our visit around the Angkor Heritage Site. We opt for the old school style of bicycles – the kind with a basket in the front, a bell and soft seats.

So around 7:45am we head out into the heat – destination Angkor.

Last night we drafted out a plan for a route, since the site is so large and let’s be honest, one can only look at so many temples in a day. If you try and do too much, you may come down with a case of the “ABC’s”, which is common for people touring Europe & Great Britain…

ABC = “Another Bloody Church, Another Bloody Castle”.

Our first stop is the mother of all temples, Angkor Wat.

Hoping it’ll be less busy now rather than later in the day, we park our bikes and spend the next hour or so wandering around the temple. It’s still as amazing the second time around, as it was the first time.

Eric is speechless… which is nice.

It’s also really interesting for me because it seems there’s some conservation work happening.

After Angkor Wat, our route takes us to Ta Phrom, but along the way, we make a slight detour and stop for a visit at Banteay Kdei. It turns out to be a great decision because there are less people wandering around so at points it’s just us, the temple and the jungle.

We get back on track and make our way to Ta Phrom, which is another well known temple for two reasons…

First, whereas many other temples have been carefully conserved, Ta Phrom has been left to the whims of the creeping jungle vegetation.

Secondly, “Tomb Raider” was filmed here.

There is some conservation work happening to help stabilize the structures, but overall it’s still elegantly overgrown as ever.

Entering through the East Gates of Angkor Thom we make our way to the Terrace of the Leper King, the Terrace of the Elephants, Phimeanakas and Bauphuon.

It’s a lot to take in so we take a break under a tree to rehydrate and enjoy some sweet pineapple.

Bayon is the next temple on our list and it turns out to by far the favourite of both Eric & I.

It’s very different from any temple we have seen to date because it’s a temple of faces. We spend a good chunk of time here wandering and snapping loads of photos.

Our final leg of the day takes us through the North Gates of Angkor Thom to Ta Som.

Ta Som is well-known because a huge tree has grown up and over an entrance to the temple. It is spectacular and worth the 20km peddle there and back.

We finish our day leaving via the South Gate of Angkor Thom and begin our journey home.

We’ve managed to bike around 35km today, so coupling that with the 70+kms we biked yesterday, we are craving some protein and we go out in search of cheeseburgers.

We are successful…sort of – refer to blog entry “Here’s a Question for You”.

Our last day in Siem Reap is a lazy / recovery day.

We start it off by visiting Joe-to-Go for banana shakes and we end it off by visiting the Blue Pumpkin Bakery for gourmet ice cream – Eric has Ginger & Clove ice cream and I have 4-Spice ice cream… definitely great!

Day 157 – Cambodia

March 11, 2010 – Siem Reap, Cambodia

We’re both really excited to be in Siem Reap. It‘s one of the destinations we’ve been looking forward to and after 5 months of cruising around Southeast Asia, we’re finally here.

We spend our first morning lazing around. We search out “Joe-to-Go” and enjoy a nice breakfast.

“Joe-to-Go” is one of the original NGO businesses in Cambodia – it’s a cafe with great coffee and treats and the proceeds go towards providing education for street children.

Unfortunately, many children in Cambodia can’t afford to go to school and are more-or-less forced to work at an early age to help out their families. Joe-to-Go not only provides free education to the children, but it also pays them a small wage to stay in school to help ease the family pressure. It kind of provides the best of both worlds for them – they get an education, which will create more opportunities for them in the future and their families benefit from it in the short-term.

The staff is really friendly, the food is great and they offer free WiFi, so Eric and I make ourselves comfortable for a while.

With a successful lazy morning under our belts, we decide it’s time for some activity.

We rent two good mountain bikes with the plan to bike to the Cambodian Landmine Museum which is located on the outskirts of Angkor and along the way we’ll also stop and purchase our admission tickets for the Temples of Angkor for the next day.

Seems like an easy plan, doesn’t it?

Based on the information in our guidebook and the brochure provided by the CLM, we understand the museum to be about 24kms from Siem Reap. So with water in hand, we begin our cycle to the head office of Angkor.

However somewhere along the way we zig when we should have zagged and we find ourselves in the middle of the Angkor site without a ticket, so we head to the nearest checkpoint to get directions. You’re supposed to be able to bike through the area without any problems, but we don’t want to run into an overzealous ticket-checker and get a fine – the tourist police are apparently very diligent here.

We get directions to the CLM with no problems, but according to them it’s actually closer to 35kms away from the ticket office. Although this is kind of different than what we understood, we’re not too worried – the calculation of distances is sometimes questionable here, so we assure the young fellow we’ll stick to the roads and not visit the temples without a ticket and then we head off.

Well, we bike and we bike and we bike... okay – maybe the 35km distance is right.

Eric and I contemplate heading back but as most of you know we are both stubborn people and do not give up on goals lightly. So despite being hungry, tired and having REALLY sore butts, we continue to cycle through the countryside in the direction of the museum.

Well, eventually we get there.

And it seems both the guidebook and the CLM brochure are wrong – it’s actually located 35kms from the ticket office of Angkor, which is 5kms from Siem Reap town. This means we have a very long bike ride back home.

Worst of all, the only food for sale at the store outside of the museum is Pringles.

So we wolf down a canister of those, stroll around the museum for about 45 minutes and then begin the journey home.

By the time we get back to Siem Reap our butts are numb with pain, we’re hungry and we’re tired. But it all seems to melt away when we remember our chilled bottle of white wine in the fridge.

Needless to say we have a quiet evening in, after a dinner of lok-lak, pommello salad and our new favourite food, minced pork & eggplant.

Day 156 – Cambodia

March 10, 2010 – Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, Cambodia

It’s time to move on from Phnom Penh – we’ve seen what we’ve wanted to see and all the heat & grime is starting to make the city feel a bit constricted – so we catch an early bus to Siem Reap and arrive mid-afternoon.

On our tuk tuk ride to our hotel, I can’t get over how much the city has grown since 2005! It’s obvious Siem Reap is benefiting from its close proximity to the World UNESCO Heritage Site of Angkor.

After we get ourselves settled in our new “home”, Eric and I wander off to find some lunch. Whenever we’re about to sit on a bus for a long period of time, we tend to try and eat very little beforehand. You never know what kind of toilets you might or might not encounter, so it’s better to take extra precautions. As a result, we’re now famished and to our delight, it doesn’t take us long to find an authentic Khmer restaurant in the thick of the tourist restaurant / bar / café / hotel hub.

Our lunch consists of banana blossom salad, sour fish soup with vegetables and a dish of minced pork and roasted eggplant. The lunch is delicious – we will definitely be back for another meal!

We stroll around the town for a little bit and on our way back to the guesthouse we discover that booze in Cambodia is REALLY affordable…

And we’re not talking crappy, bathtub moonshine – we’re talking good French & Australian wines!

So we pick up a bottle and head back home for “cocktail hour”.

Days 154 & 155 – Cambodia

March 8 & 9, 2010 – Phnom Penh, Cambodia

As you may have noticed, whenever we arrive in a new city, we like to spend our first day exploring. And our first day in Phnom Penh is no different.

We start off by visiting a few secondhand bookstores – our supply is starting to get low and we know we have a few R&R opportunities coming up, so we want to be prepared.

Next we go and check out some handicraft stores.

Throughout our journey, Eric and I have made a conscious effort to search out and support stores and cafes which actively give back to the community, through both employment and education. In Cambodia, there’s no social network to support the less fortunate and those with disabilities, so many people rely on these businesses as a way to a better life.

The store we’re looking for in particular is “Wat Than Handicraft” which is run out of Wat Than or “Than Temple”. They produce an amazing array of beautiful handicrafts, with the proceeds supporting disabled Khmers. We browse around for a bit, but don’t buy anything right away – we want to think about it before we commit. Eric sees a carved wooden chess-set and although he comes very close, he holds off for the time being.

By midday we find ourselves strolling along the waterfront, where we stop to enjoy a banana shake by the river.

On our way back to our hostel, we check out the central market, which is located in a fantastic yellow art deco building near the city centre. Unfortunately the building is under renovation and not accessible, so the market has been set up along the exterior perimeter of the building and we spend some time wandering the stalls before we continue on our way.

We enjoy a nice late lunch at a small Indian restaurant and spend the next couple hours reading and watching TV – there’s one in our hostel room which is a real treat.

Later on in the evening we go for a quick stroll. The intention is to work up an appetite for dinner, but we’re still so full from lunch that we end up just grabbing a small snack and going home to bed. The walk is nice, but we’ve realized we prefer “day Phnom Penh” to “night Phnom Penh” – in the evening there’s an edge to the city that just doesn’t feel too comfortable.

Day 2 in Phnom Penh is an intense day for Eric, as he visits Choeung Ek – the “Killing Fields” – and the Tuol Sleng Museum.

During the reign of the Khmer Rouge, Choeung Ek was a field/compound located about 20 kms. outside of the city where “prisoners” were transported to be killed… hence the name “the Killing Fields”. Much like the Holocaust, the prisoners were anyone who went against the KR’s warped utopian vision – the educated, the outspoken, the elderly, the disabled, along with ordinary men, women and children. Their time spent in the detention centers in Choeung Ek lasted as long as it took for them to be killed, after which their bodies were thrown into mass graves. Today there is a beautiful memorial in the middle of the grounds which is filled with the skulls of the victims – a reminder to never let the past repeat itself.

The Tuol Sleng Museum is the remains of the school that was used as the interrogation center for the Khmer Rouge. People were crammed into rooms, shackled to beds and then beaten and tortured. If they survived the interrogation, they were shipped off to Choeung Ek. The rooms have been left pretty much untouched since the complex was discovered and in some rooms, there are pictures of all the victims – the KR took photographs of every man, woman and child who was imprisoned there.

It’s quite a sobering experience to visit these places and as I had already visited each of them 5 years ago, I don’t want to go again. It’s a horrific part of Cambodia’s history, but it’s also a very significant part of it as well, and Eric wants to pay his respects.

While he’s away, I decide to visit the O’Russey market which is located about 5 minutes down the road from our guesthouse. It’s filled with everyday items, ranging from cooking utensils and shoes to toys and clothes, which is perfect since I am in search of a new belt.

After the market – where I do pick up a stylish new belt for a very reasonable price – I venture over to the National Museum. When I was in Phnom Penh in 2005, I really enjoyed the building, so today I’m going back to spend some time sitting in the interior courtyard and sketching.

The Russian market is next on my list. It’s a great place for souvenir shopping so I pick up a couple of kramas for Eric and I. “Kramas” are the unofficial uniform of Cambodia – they’re typically checkered pieces of cloth used as a scarf, a shawl, a belt, a towel, a baby-bjorn, etc. We know we have some dusty areas in our future, both in Cambodia and beyond, so they’ll definitely come in handy. Plus, they look great – mine’s red and Eric’s is blue and chocolate-brown.

I end my adventure by having a small bite at Le Rits, which is an NGO-run café whose proceeds assist disadvantaged women re-entering the workplace.

Later on in the afternoon I return to the guesthouse and meet up with Eric. He’s had a good day, but given the subject matter he’s encountered, he’s a little drained.

We go for a walk, grab an ice cream cone and do a bit of shopping – Eric buys the cool chess set he saw at Wat Than Handicrafts yesterday, so he’s very happy.

We head back to the waterfront to watch the sun set over the Royal Palace and then wander around in search of dinner.

Robyn’s Retort

Regarding the hairdryer incident referred to in “What to Bring: Entertainment – Plug Adaptors”…

I was 12.

And Suzanne told me to.

What to Bring: Entertainment

No matter what kind of trip you’re planning, you can’t “GO! GO! GO!” the entire time – you’ll burn yourself out and end up missing some great opportunities.

So whether you plan on climbing Mt. Everest, clubbing in London or laying on a beach in Brazil, bring something to entertain yourself along the way.

There will be points when you’re stuck doing nothing and it won’t always be by your own choosing - sitting in an airport or recovering from that extra shot of Jagermeister “that seemed like a good idea at the time”.

So here’s a list of things you might consider bringing along…


What better time to catch up on some reading, than while you’re on vacation.

Depending on the length of your trip, you might want to bring a book you can leave behind – this saves you having to lug around a bunch of novels. Most hostels have book swaps and you’ll more than likely find a few used bookstores along the way.

However, on the subject of book swaps, I’d like to let everyone know that after having visited many bookstores in my travels, there are officially enough books available for you to read by Dan Brown, John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Danielle Steele & Stephen King, as well as the Harry Potter series, the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “Eat, Pray, Love” and anything that’s been on Oprah’s Book Club.

Kindly bring something different to leave behind.

Deck of Cards / Mini Chess Set / Skip-Bo

Perfect for long waits in a ferry terminal when the 3:00pm departure has been delayed to 4:00pm, 5:00pm and 6:00pm because they’re waiting for “one more person”.

Camera / Carrying Case / Charger

I love film, but for travelling, digital is the way to go – you can organize your photos, edit them down and then save backups to a CD or DVD.

Plus it beats having to pay a massive processing bill when you arrive home and then spending hours trying to figure out which waterfall is which.

Ipod / Headphones / Charger

Bring a good mix of music for whatever mood you might be in.

I’ve also downloaded a bunch of free podcasts from iTunes – documentaries, interviews, etc. – which has been good because I feel my brain getting stronger.

We’ve also downloaded a number of the TEDTalks seminars, which are awesome… watch Stefan Sagmeister’s speech “the Power of Time Off” – very cool.

Computer / Carrying Case / Charger / Mouse / USB Cable

We have a small “Netbook” with us and it’s been great – we use it to sort out our photos, tap into free WiFi to check our emails and Skype our parents.

Of course, bringing along a computer also means there’s something else you can lose or have “lost” for you, so think about it before you bring one along.

Spare USB Cards

A great way to store back-up copies of your photos, as well as keeping scans of important documents…

See “What to Bring: the Necessities”.

Spare Camera Memory Cards

No one likes to run out of space on their camera’s memory card and then be forced to delete photos.

Journal / Address Book

Well, an address book is a good way of storing addresses, so you can send your parents – who by the way miss you dearly and can’t understand why you wouldn’t just want to spend a week visiting them – a postcard or two.

A journal is a good way of remembering where you’ve been, what you’ve done and which waterfall is which.

A Scratchpad

Perfect for jotting down bus schedules, email addresses, directions, phone numbers, prices for comparative shopping and “getting it in writing”.


Or a pencil.

Plug Adaptors

Your fancy camera with its rechargeable battery won’t last too long if you can’t plug it’s charger into the wall, now will it?

Good news – a lot of gadgets & gizmos, such as camera battery rechargers, computer plugs, etc., now automatically convert 110V & 220V so you don’t have to worry about a power converter.

However if you bring a hairdryer, you may still need one… just ask Robyn.

Your Passion?

Whatever your passion is, see if you can bring it along.

I mean, isn’t that the point of a trip? To be able to do what you love?

I brought my comedy book so I can keep writing, Robyn brought along a small paint kit and we each brought our basic climbing gear. Throughout the trip we’ve had opportunities to pursue all of them and it’s been great.


You saucy little minx, you…