Mark Gray

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Day 6 – Travel to Ho Chi Minh

Today we left the wonderful laid back Cambodia for the bustling city of Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam. We flew in a small regional aircraft from Siam Reap to Ho Chi Minh City in about 1hr 10 mins, purchased new SIM cards and took a car to the hotel. Our hotel is extremely small, effectively a backpackers dorm room, but is in the best location to enable us to get to all of our destinations quickly.

Ho Chi Minh is busy, lots of traffic and people and it’s taking some time to adjust to the city lifestyle again after spending the 5 days in the country town of Siam Reap.

Just a quick update today as it has been mostly travel, tomorrow we are off to the Cu Chi tunnels for another history lesson.

Day 5 – Temples

Today was a very big day touring around the temples with our awesome tuk tuk driver. There is a $37 entry charge to enter the park and this gives you access to all of the temples in the area.

These temples are huge and the photos just don’t do them justice. It is amazing to think that people actually built these amazing structures without any form of modern machinery and the sheer precision of cuts and placements of the stones is amazing. Each stone has been placed in the perfect position to hold up the stone next to it and the design is that if one stone moves, the structure is no longer stable. Over the years trees have grown bigger around the structures and the root systems are causing movement, there are a lot of areas where parts of the temples have fallen and there are piles of boulders and columns lining the exterior walls. A small handful of the temples are also strapped up while the teams attempt to repair and reconstruct the temples to their original design.

Most temples are surrounded by a giant stone wall and have huge grand entrances. You can only imagine what this would have looked like when they were constructed and how they would have been used.

As we only had one day to see the temples, we aimed to go through the top ones first. Yesterday we looked at Angkor Wat, Bayon, Angkor Tom, Ta Prohm. Our favourite was Angkor Tom, this temple was huge and had amazing carvings on the walls and many hallways inside. Steep steps take you up to the top floor where you can look down on the structures below and get a closer look at the huge sculptures which sit on top of the temple. Out of all the temples we looked at, this one was in the best condition and had very few props holding it together.

At the end of the day we went to Phnom Bakheng which is a 15 minute walk up a hill. At the top of the hill there are some very steep steps to climb the temple and gain access to the top, from here there is great place to view the sunset. Unfortunately with the very high humidity and heat yesterday and spending all day in the sun, once we arrived at the top of the temple we were not feeling well enough to stay up there the 2 hours to sunset, we then made our way back down the mountain. I do recommend though if you want to do the sunset up here that you get there around 3.30pm, there are 500-1000 people each day who come up to watch the sunset and unless you can get there early, you won’t be able to get a spot on the correct side of the temple to see the sunset. Places on top of the temple are also limited on a first in basis, no tickets are required.

The temples are a great experience and if you are ever in Siam Reap they are must see.

We have had a great time in Cambodia and this will be the first of many trips. I love how relaxed and laid back this country is, how nice the people are and how much there is to see. Tomorrow morning we head off to Saigon, my next update will be from Vietnam!

Day 4 – Tonle Sap, Raffles, Stage Show

Today started off with a tuk tuk ride from our amazing tuk tuk driver, Samart. Samart has been our tour guide and tuk tuk driver since we arrived in Siam Reap and knows the area like the back of his hand. Not only is Samart taking us to the places we have asked to visit, he has also recommended some very interesting things to see and great places to eat, he has gone to every effort to make our holiday as amazing as possible. If you are lucky enough to stay at the Image D’Angkor hotel, you will be introduced to Samart.

Our first stop today was the Tonle Sap lake where we took a boat ride to see the floating forest and village. There are three different destinations you can go to see the floating village but after speaking to the locals and doing some research, the one to choose is Kompong Phluk. Kompong Phluk does not show you crocodile farms and other touristy things, it goes directly to the floating villages and is the only one with the floating forest. It is really interesting to see how these people live their lives on top of the water from houses to schools. The buildings stand about 2m above the waterline and the water is around 4-5m deep so the foundations of the houses run around 7m until they hit the ground. Although the water is quite polluted and looks very dirty, that does not stop the locals from washing their clothes and diving into the water. Whilst we were heading through the village we saw a lady washing her clothes at the bottom of her front steps, someone cooking and throwing the rubbish over the balcony into the water and another lady up to her neck in the water fixing an enclosure. The Kompong Phluk tour also has an option for going through the floating forest which is a smaller boat and takes you in between the trees, this is a very good photo opportunity and a peaceful relaxing boat ride. If you are intending to do these tours save yourself some money and book when you arrive, the ticket price is around $30US cheaper if you book when you arrive.

After Tonle Sap we made our way back into town to visit the Raffles hotel for a coffee. This hotel has everything included from house phones, cafe, shops, amazing pool and even a Buddhist exhibition. The pool is one of the most amazing pools that I have ever seen at a hotel, it is huge with an interesting shape and gardens. On a day like today where it was 33 degrees, it was very inviting. The cafe was a little more expensive than the standard Cambodia pricing however is still about half the price of Australia. The face produces some very good coffee’s and a very cool cream brûlée in a coconut shell.

To end our day we went to dinner and a stage show at Koulen Restaurant. For $12US per person you can access the massive all you can eat buffet which has a huge variety of foods from Curries to roasted vegetables. After dinner you can sit back and relax and watch the Cambodian dancers perform a stage show.

It is amazing how tired you can become from sitting down and travelling around these destinations, there is so much to see in Cambodia and with our last day here tomorrow, we have really only just scratched the surface.

Day 3 – Phnom Penh to Siam Reap

Today was a big day of travel, we took a bus from Phnom Penh to Siam Reap. We used a company called Giant Ibis, these guys have a very good safety record and offered a great service for around $15US each for the 6 hour trip. Whilst the bus seats were not overly comfortable, the staff were great and it was well worth the 6 hours just to see the countryside and see how Cambodians live who are not located in the heart of Phnom Penh. I feel that if you were to fly this leg you would miss out on a very worthwhile experience.

To my surprise the roads were all sealed and not overly bumpy however the roads are also swarming with people doing whatever speed they like, some were too slow and some were speeding. The bus and cars beep their horn if you are not going fast enough, indicate and then just go into the wrong lane to overtake. This is fine except they don’t care if there is oncoming traffic or not, the bus just overtakes on the wrong side of the road. Normally this would make you feel pretty unsafe however these guys had it under control the whole time and we felt safe for the entire journey, this is Cambodia driving at it’s finest. There were an incredible amount of things to see from the bus window that you would never see if you went by plane. On the side of the road you can see locals working at fruit stands, selling meat, carving stone, making something with a big piece of wood (not sure what that was exactly, maybe flour?) and also the houses where the locals live. While the housing and people did not look rich in a sense that they were flushed with cash, they were rich in the sense that they are happy with what they have. It really makes you wonder if the western world is doing it right!

Some other interesting facts about our drive to be noted are included in the images at the end of this post. A man installing power cables with a rope around his waist, standing on a live electrical pole and a man in a van with about 20 people laying down on his motorbike, which was hanging out the back of the van roped up. Another photo shows a standard van layout with the back door roped down to allow more cargo or people to fit in.

Upon arrival in Siam Reap we loaded our bags into a tuk tuk and we jumped in a second tuk tuk to head to the hotel. We were taken to the wrong hotel where the driver misunderstood the hotels name. His mate had a look at our paperwork and and figured out where to go, he then proceeded to give his mate a hard time as he had made a ‘lulu’ (boo boo). We then took off in the other direction to our hotel. We drove up a not so nice looking street and turned onto a secluded dirt road, we drove to the end and the drivers stopped and started to look at each other having no idea where they were. A minute later a man walked out of a door, we had driven about 10m past the hotel entrance. We finally arrived and went into our absolutely amazing accomodation called Image D’ankor. This guest house is lined with wood and plants and feels like a secluded getaway, the best part is that it is about 7 minutes tuk tuk ride to get into the main parts of the town where things such as the markets and restaurants are. In the other direction you can head to the temples, this is in the perfect location.

We went out tonight to check out the Made in Cambodia or King Street markets. These markets are very relaxed with not too many people and are in a really nice part of town. The markets are all hand made products and a portion of all proceeds to go charity. This market is well worth a look, we did make some small purchases from here. Around the market are a selection of restaurants including Hard Rock Cafe.

Once again we have had an amazing day and seen so much of this awesome country. Tomorrow we are heading out to see the floating villages and have a bit more of a look around the city. Having the best time and will most definitely return!

Day 2 – Killing Fields, Genocide Museum, Russian Market, Royal Palace

Today was our last day in Phnom Penh so we had quite a lot to see. We hired a tuk tuk driver for the day for $30US and made our way to the first stop, the Genocide Center (Killing Fields).

The Genocide Center is about a half hour from our hotel. This tuk tuk ride was amazing as we were able to experience both the city and slum areas. Riding through the city shows slums right next door to million dollar estates, the roads are also extremely busy with lots of pollution. We ended up purchasing a face mask from a pharmacy to help with the pollution from the hundreds of motorbikes and trucks.

The Genocide Center is a must see to gain an understanding into an extremely important part of Cambodian history. It is confronting walking around the mounds where so many people were killed, listening to the audio tour and gaining a greater understanding of the terrible history of this site. As we walked around we noticed a large amount of cloth starting to come to the surface, this was a sign of more mass graves which had not yet surfaced. There was also clothes making their way to the surface along with more bones. A large memorial at the entrance displays a huge amount of human skulls, all of which have been uncovered from the mass grave sites. The cost of entry was around $6US and if you want to learn more about Cambodia’s history and can handle the confronting nature of this site, is well worth the trip. I would also highly recommend the audio tour.

After the Genocide Center we headed back into town to the Genocide Museum. This is a very full on stop which makes you truely understand what happened in the Khmer Rouge regime. The Genocide Museum is the site where the victims of the Killing Fields were held and tortured before being transported to the Killing Fields for execution. The site is an old Highschool which was converted into a prison. Walking around the site shows pictures of staff and victims, weapons used to torture victims and cells used to house the victims in. The balconies to the buildings are encased in barbed wire to prevent suicides and the fences to the site are lined with tin sheets and rows of barbed wire to prevent escape or break ins. Displays show human skulls with fractures and breaks from being hit in the head and other torture devices. Although the history of this site is interesting and gives a further understanding of the Killing Fields, it is extremely confronting and is hard for some people to complete the full tour.

Our tuk tuk driver then took us into the Russian Market. This market was quite big but also quite uninteresting, the prices were very expensive and each stall was extremely similar. Not something I would recommend unless you had some spare time to kill.

The next stop was the Royal Palace. This amazing site is lined with gold everywhere! There is gold on the roof, the light fittings, the fence, the gates… everywhere. The buildings have amazing architecture and the gardens are immaculate with shaped trees and extremely green lawns. Entry cost is about $10US per person and is well worth checking out.

We went out to an amazing restaurant called Khmer Surin for dinner. If you are in Phnom Penh it is worth checking out, the food and atmosphere are amazing at the prices very affordable.

That is our daily wrap up, i’m off to bed so that we can rise early for our 6 hour bus trip through Cambodia to Siem Reap.

Day 1 – Travel to Cambodia & First Day

Our journey has started, leaving Brisbane airport last night at 11.40pm. We headed out with Thai Airways from Brisbane to Bangkok and transferred to a flight from Bangkok to Phnom Penh.

First impressions, Phnom Penh is hot and humid! We arrived at 32 degrees and walking off the plane you can instantly feel the temperate difference. If you are looking to travel to Cambodia, one thing I would recommend is having some recent passport photos handy for your tourist visa application. If you don’t have photos, you are slugged with a $3US fee, whilst not a lot of money, if you have them at home like we did, it would have been easier to just bring them with us.

The visa process in Cambodia is quite straight forward, you fill in the application form provided on the plane and hand it in to the border protection officers with your $30US application fee. If you don’t have a recent passport photo to attach, you also have a $3US fee as well. Once you submit your paperwork, you move to the collections line where you wait for your passport to be held up. Once held up you can collect your passport, pay your $30US and you are on your way.

Upon leaving the airport you are presented with two things. There are about 5 shops all selling SIM cards and phone plans (very cheap), and about 50 people attempting to gain your business and usher you into a cab or tuk tuk.

The best value for money plan at the moment is with a company called cell card, they have the “Big Love” plan which gives you 80GB of data and free calls to anyone on the cell card network for about $10.20US.

Tuk Tuk drivers will approach you wanting your business, it pays to haggle them down. If you have a bit of luggage they will insist on 2 cars but if you push it hard enough, you can get it all in 1 and just put a bag on your lap. We made it from the airport to our hotel about 40mins away for $15US, this is a bit expensive but our driver was amazing. He sung the Cambodia song to us and just made the whole trip very pleasant.

Upon arriving at our hotel (Queen Grand Boutique), the hospitality shown by all of the staff is absolutely incredible. Cambodians are so nice! Nothing was too much trouble and the staff have gone out of their way to ensure that everything we need is taken care of. If you are wanting a massage you are looking at about $15US for 60 minutes, the bar fridge has beer, nuts and other goodies for about $2.50US each and the hotel has a pool and restaurant as well. All in all very cheap.

Walking around the area today sheds light on a very different culture and way of life. Safety standards to not exist, there are holes in the sidewalk, electrical wiring is visible and accessible by anyone walking around the streets and there are no road rules. Some of the photos attached to this post show the insane wiring lining the air above the streets and things like lights in a park have been ‘repaired’ with external wires which are both exposed to the elements and anyone who may be walking past them. These are not isolated either, it is just the norm over here.

We are having a great time so far taking in the culture and looking around. We are about to head out to dinner with a friend who moved over here from Australia which will be awesome. Tomorrow we head out on the road to look at the Killing Fields, Genocide Museum and a few other must see places.

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