Angkor Whaaaatt?!

We left Battambang on a bus to Siem reap along with Paul and Hannah. The bus was shorter than the others we had been on but otherwise much the same, full of locals and karaoke music. As usual we arrived quite a bit later than we should have so the four of us had a beer and some lunch before heading to our accommodation.

We had a quite day when we first got to Siem Reap which was great as we used it to plan / book upcoming travel arrangements. Siem Reap was a really cool city though and we even got to see a few really beautiful orange sunsets during our stay.
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Jenna who we met on Koh Rong Samloem was also in Siem Reap as she had one more night before she flew home. Looking forward to catching up with her again, we decided a night out down pub street was in order. We met Jenna for happy hour drinks around 5.30 and not too long after that Paul and Hannah arrived so we continued drinking until we needed some food. We had dinner around the corner on a quieter street before heading back for some more fun. Pub street around 8pm basically turns into a big street party where everyone dances and drinks in the street. Its also cheaper in Cambodia to drink beer than water so it’s an easy place to get into the drinking spirit!
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We had a really fun night and don’t have nights like that often on the trip however it did mean we pretty much rode off the following day and we felt quite guilty for wasting it. Also when we woke up we had a message from Jenna saying she had missed her flight! Luckily she only missed the first leg and could get another flight in time for the second one.
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One of the main reasons we came to Siem Reap though was to see the Angkor Wat temples! Hannah, Paul, Charlie and I all hired a tuk tuk for the day to take us around all the different temples. It’s basically a big park with loads of different temples inside but the distances between the temples are quite far. We started at Angkor Wat which was impressive but so overcrowded it ruined it a little bit.
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The second temple we went to was Ta Prohm which is well known from the movie tomb raider.
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It’s also in my opinion far more fascinating that Angkor Wat! The temple has these amazing trees growing all over it and through it.
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We were doing well on time so we visited what our driver called a ‘small’ temple which turned out to be massive. Being super hungry we stopped for a lunch break, our driver took us to a place he knew and annoyingly the food was extremely pricey. Full up from our overpriced lunch, we moved onto Bayon. It was very impressive from the outside and inside it was full of faces. It was really cool to walk around and see all the faces in the stone. We then walked back towards the restaurant where our driver was waiting and stopped at a couple more temples along the way including the Terrace of Elephants. Our day ended back at Angkor Wat temple for sunset where we enjoyed a couple of beers on the lake whilst watching quite a disappointing sunset. Sadly it was too cloudy to see the sun but nonetheless it was still really enjoyable.

Our last couple of days in Siem Reap were spent relaxing by the pool and catching up with Paul and Hannah. We had absolutely loved our time in Cambodia and meeting some great friends along the way. We were sad to say goodbye but we were also pretty excited as Charlie’s parents were flying out to Thailand to meet us.

He says, she says – Cambodia

10 January – 31 January 21 days

Places visited: Phnom Penh, Kampot, Kep, Sihanoukville, Koh Rong Samloem, Otres, Battambang, Siem Reap

Most favourite place:
Charlie: For me, the favourite has to be Koh Long Samloem for its sheer beauty and peaceful atmosphere. The island doesn’t have roads or vehicles, limited electricity in the day, white sand and blue seas. Jungle hikes take you through the islands winding paths to other beaches with another character and atmosphere. Beautiful! A close second would have to be our day in Battambang!
Lisa: Koh Rong Samloem was just so beautiful! It was so nice to find an island that was still so quiet with minimal accommodation, no roads and some of the clearest water I’ve seen!

Least favourite place
:
Charlie: We spent a night in Sihanoukville whilst making our way through to Koh Rong Samloem. Sihanoukville has to be my least favourite as its just one big, dirty party town over-run with tourists looking for a cheap drink. We moved on the next day.
Lisa: Kep was my least favourite but luckily it was only a day trip we did there. For me, it just didn’t have a lot going for it other than the crab market.

Most favourite dish:
Charlie: Lok Lak! Its a stir-fried chilli dish with rice and a fried egg on top. Put a fried egg on anything and i’ll probably eat it. I think i liked it so much because its similar to a lot of the Thai stir fry dishes i love.
Lisa: I liked the Khmer curry. It wasn’t spicy enough for me but the flavours were nice and I could usually get it with tofu.

Best experience:
Charlie: My best experience is tough to choose. Meeting the locals and having them tell us their stories of the tragedy that they went through was amazing and touching, so i would have to say that meeting Bou Meng and Phi Lay – our tuk tuk driver in Battambang was the best thing to come out of our visit. Although waking up and looking out to the sea in Koh Rong Samloem was pretty special.
Lisa: Meeting Bou Meng, the survivor from S-21. It was a heartbreaking but really touching experience at the same time. One I definitely won’t forget.

Worst experience:
Charlie: Same as Below.
Lisa: I booked us a hotel in Sihanoukville that practically didn’t exist where it was supposed to. We walked about 40 minutes with all our bags to the most dodgy looking area to not find our hotel anywhere. We then had to go back to the main town and find something else. Luckily Agoda refunded our money and apologised but it was still pretty annoying.

Something you will miss:
Charlie: I’ll miss the kind nature of the people in Cambodia and the constant learning we took from them about their experiences over the last 4 decades.
Lisa: The people we met were amazing, not just travellers but we were lucky to meet some really amazing locals who told us very personal stories about their life and struggles.

Something you won’t miss:
Charlie: We shared one bus with a dude and his bag of chickens and another where someone brought a bag of warm dead fish and stuffed it under my seat. it was funny, but i won’t miss that smell!
Lisa: The bus journeys. Everything always took 2 hours longer than what they would say and there were so many stops added to pick up locals, a lot of whom had their market shopping with them. We had dead fish and live chickens on one of our buses although now we find it quite funny. Mostly it was just the wrong timings that annoyed us the most.

Otres & Battambang

We left our island of paradise and got a ferry across to Sihanoukville. We decided to spend a couple of nights in Otres to chill out and get some upcoming travel plans finalised. We didn’t do a whole lot there but Hannah and Paul were also there so we spent our evenings having dinner and drinks with them, went to a night market and watched a pretty nice sunset.
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Our next destination was Battambang but first we had quite a journey ahead of us to get there. We left Otres on a minibus for Phnom Penh which took a nice long 7 hours. We decided to stay in Phnom Penh for a night as we had heard some horror stories regarding the night buses here. After a quick sleep at Base Hostel, we had a 7am start and another long bus ride ahead. This one was another 7 hours where we shared our bus with tourists, locals and their live chickens!

That evening we went to a night market with Hannah and Paul before getting an early night. The four of us had hired a tub tuk driver for the next day to take us around to different sites. Hannah and Paul had been recommended by other travellers to do his tour so we were excited to see where he was taking us.

Our tour started at 9am where our excited driver Phil Lay greeted us at our hotel with a big smile. His tour started at the local market where locals go to buy anything from fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. As you can imagine the smells were quite strong and some of the meat (chickens, ducks etc) was being sold still alive. There was also a lot of interesting items being sold such as snakes, frogs, beetles, eels, mongoose, pig heads or feet, mice and rats. They really don’t waste any of the animal they sell, there were tubs of intestines and stomachs from a anything from pigs to fogs. Phil Lay told us that the middle class to well off locals buy the fish bodies whilst the poor will buy the heads or the guts that are usually thrown away.
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After the market we went to the Bamboo train where we got to ride along the broken up tracks on a rolling platform which was really fun and surprisingly fast. At the end of the train we were greeted by a group of kids who were really funny. They kept calling us their brother and sister and hugging us.
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We continued our tour driving through small villages and seeing how they make dried banana and rice paper. The dried banana was made by  a lady in her home. She hand cuts thin pieces of banana and then lays them out to dry in the sun. Phil Lay purchased some for us and it was delicious.
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The rice paper was made by two girls who had a very fast and impressive production line.
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Our next stop was the killing field where Phil Lay told us a story of his time during the Khmer Rouge. Originally from a wealthy family, he was one of the first taken from the city and forced into slave labour, working in the fields for 3 years and 8 months. He survived two bouts of malaria whilst living on a ration of half a cup of rice a day. He had to watch his family members starve to death or be killed. After being liberated he walked for 30 days from Battambang to Phnom Penh with nothing but the clothes on his back. Once he arrived he had no choice but the leave to avoid conscription to the Vietnamese army. Turning around and making the 300km/30 day journey back to Battambang. Not liking what was happening there he traveled to Thailand and spent 9 years in a refugee camp, rebuilding his life before becoming a driver in the Army. He then went onto become a policeman in Battambang before retiring and working as a tour guide. He told this story with a smile on his face as he considers himself one of the lucky ones who survived. Another truly remarkable survivor we’ve had the pleasure to meet.
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We had time still before lunch so Phil Lay took us to a ruins temple which gave us our first glance at a Khmer style temple. It was built in the same stone that the Angkor Was temples are which made us excited to visit them!
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We had worked up an appetite and it was time for a lunch break. Phil Lay took us to a restaurant on a lake where we could swim. We all found a bamboo hut where you could rest up in a hammock or spend time jumping off the hut into the 18m deep lake. We obviously spent our time jumping into the lake.
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Our last destination for the day was a the Killing Cave where during the Khmer Rouge people were bludgeoned to death before being tossed into the holes which served as the skylights to the caves. The caves now have buddhas, memorial statues and glass cabinets full of skulls inside.
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Like a lot of places in South East Asia, the Killing Cave was home to a lot of monkeys. Charlie had fun taking photos of them whilst I ran away from any heading my way.
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We stayed there until sunset where we got to see all the bats inside the cave fly out to hunt. There are over 6 million bats inside and they fly out in a continuous group for 30 minutes.
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It was an unforgettable day and we really wouldn’t have seen all of this or even known about half of these places if it wasn’t for Phil Lay. We ended our night at the night market where the 4 of us said our goodbyes to Phil Lay and then chatted about the days activities over dinner and drinks.

Island paradise on Koh Rong Samloem

We woke up early and headed down to Serendipity pier where we would catch the 9.30am ferry to Koh Rong Samloem. The island is fairly quiet but slowly becoming more and more developed. We chose to stay here was we had heard it hadn’t been completely ruined by tourism yet. On arrival we noticed some development but it was still very basic and quiet. There’s no roads, no cars or bikes which was nice to see however we did notice some construction around parts of the island which makes us think the island won’t stay this quiet for long. Oh and it has a very rustic police station but we loved this. Inside was a hammock which usually had 1 man (the policeman?) sleeping for most of the day.
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We arrived on the island and checked into the Beach Island Resort where we had some really cool accommodation for the next couple of nights. We were staying in an open aired dorm where there was no front wall to the dorm, instead there was a view of the ocean.
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It was pretty amazing as we got to fall asleep at night under a mosquito net to the sound of the ocean and in the morning we could watch the sunrise from our bed!
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Sadly the facilities (eg. The showers and toilets) were pretty grim and the staff were very unfriendly and in most cases rude. Still we were pretty happy as the island was absolutely beautiful!
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We had a lazy first day on our side of the island where we met a solo traveller from Melbourne named Jenna. We went out in the afternoon together to watch the sunset at a little wooden beach bar before having some dinner back at our place.

The next day we woke up, had some breakfast then spent a couple of hours on the beach. We decided to hike to sunset beach in the afternoon which was on the opposite side of the island. Charlie, Jenna and I set out around 3pm hoping to stay on the other side for most of the evening before trekking back later that night once we’d had dinner and watched the sunset. We didn’t expect the walk to be as much of a trek as it was. It started with a small path but the path leads you into dense jungle and full of rocky inclines and lots of tree trunks to climb over.
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The walk was really hot but also really fun, however, we didn’t really want to do it in pitch black darkness so we decided to only spend a few hours at sunset beach. The beach was beautiful though and the water was even clearer than on our side!We had a beer at a cool bungalow hostel called Huba Huba before making the trek back.
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When we got back we decided to have a couple of beers at a really cool shack type bar near our place. The bar had a great outdoor balcony built where the you have views of the beach from one side and views of a river from the other. We sat there whilst the sunset and the whole sky kept changing colour. It was beautiful.
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We finished our night off at a place called Orchid for dinner before heading back.

Our last day we woke up and packed up our stuff. We loved it here so much we booked ourselves on the last possible ferry so we could spend the whole day here. Charlie, Jenna and I decided to do another hike to Lazy Beach. We left around 8.30am so we could have breakfast at the resort over there. The hike was much easier than the previous day and the path was a much easier terrain. We arrived and instantly fell in love with the place. It was even more beautiful than sunset beach!
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We had a lovely breakfast at the resort before finding a spot on the sand where we would spend most of the day.
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The water was so clear and the beach was so quiet we practically had it to ourselves the whole day.
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Sadly the time came where we had to head back to the other side so Charlie and I could get our ferry.

We finished our day with a quick little rest at the bar before grabbing our bags, saying goodbye to Jenna and getting our ferry back to the mainland. We’d had to most amazing time on the island and even though there wasn’t much to do to fill our days we both said we could have stayed much longer! It really is a little island paradise.
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One night in Sihanoukville

We woke up, packed up our bags and headed to our favourite cafe for breakfast. We booked for $5 around 1.30pm to head to Sihanoukville where we would spend one night before getting a ferry to the island of Koh Rong Samloem.

A couple of hours later we arrived in the centre of Sihanoukville and decided to save money we would walk to our guesthouse. After the 2km walk we arrived to where our guesthouse was on the map however it was no where to be seen. What was worse was it was in a pretty sketchy area of town. After walking around a little more and asking a few restaurant owners we gave up and headed back into town. We found a cheap room near the pier called Sakal Guesthouse, it was by no means perfect and was essentially a very basic sweatbox but we figured it would do for one night. Luckily I contacted Agoda and we got refunded for our none existent room too.

After booking our ferry for the following morning, we headed out to a bar down the road that we had received a free beer poster for when we passed earlier. The food and beer was well priced so we decided to spend the evening there. Just after ordering we looked over and on the next table was Paul and Hannah! We didn’t realise they were in the same pat of Sihanoukville and didn’t expect to see them so it was a nice surprise and we all got to have dinner together.

Exploring national parks in Kampot and Kep

We left Phnom Penh and made what should have been the 3 hour bus journey to Kampot. 2 minibus changes, 2 car washes to cool the engine down and 4 hours later we arrived. We checked into Borey Vatanac Guesthouse which would be our home for the next 4 nights, it was really well priced and had aircon! We found a place for dinner called Ecran noodle and dumpling house where they make home made noodles and dumplings right in front of you. The dumplings were pretty nice however the noodle soup was quite bland and lacking flavour.

The next day we woke up and headed to a place called Epic Arts Cafe for breakfast. It’s a charity run cafe where all the staff are either deaf or have a disability. The menu had tips on how to order in sign language and when the food came it was great! The rest of the day we spent walking along the river and exploring some of Kampot. It’s quite a small sleepy river town however there is a large expect scene. 15994905_10154081551291176_6847359293199854991_oThe old architecture from the French is spread all over the town and there’s plenty of nice little cafes to have a coffee in. We spent our afternoon drinking a beer by the river so we could watch the sunset.
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After the sunset we went to a place called Captain Chim’s for dinner. The food was really cheap and pretty good. We got chatting to a couple next to us from England. Paul and Hannah are also travelling for a long period of time so we exchanged travel stories over a beer and swapped contact details with the hope to catch up again.

We woke up, hired a scooter from our hotel and drove to Bokor National Park about 40kms away from Kampot. The drive was really nice but it was a very windy day making the road up the mountain feel quite long. We eventually made it to the viewpoint and were so happy the long drive was worth it. The view was amazing!
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After the viewpoint we explored some of the abandoned buildings within the national park. The French had built a casino, a church and a few other buildings back in the 1920’s before abandoning the builds and leaving them unoccupied. Walking around and inside made us feel like we were in a horror movie.
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Around 2pm we realised we hadn’t eaten yet so we left the national park and headed to Ecran again for some more tasty dumplings. That evening we met up with Paul and Hannah again for dinner and a few drinks before heading home for an early night.

For our last full day we decided to make the drive down to Kep.
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The drive was pretty easy and just one long road the whole way there. When we got to Kep we decided to explore the National Park first. The guy at the gate said we could drive through it so we jumped on the bike and headed down the dirt track. The drive wasn’t easy or comfortable as there aren’t any proper roads.
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About half a km into the park a long snake slithered out in front of us, it disappeared pretty quickly too but we were then a little on edge about stopping for too long in certain places. We had gone to see the waterfall which we could see on the map, when Charlie asked the ticket office how far it was the guy said there was no waterfall. We thought it was strange as on entry there was a sign for the waterfall so we thought surely there must be one, he must be new or just doesn’t know. Turns out there is a waterfall but only in the rainy season, so when we showed up to the waterfall and admired the dry rocks we knew what he was trying to tell us.
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We drove out of the national park and explored the main shoreline of Kep. The beach was nicer than we were expecting but it still wasn’t much to write home about. We also visited the crab market where you can go and buy fresh crab caught off the back of the pier that the market sits on.
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On our way home we decided to stop at a cave that we could see on our map. On arrival we were greeted by a young boy, maybe in his teens. Once we realised that he wanted to be our guide, it was a bit too late to tell him we didn’t want one so we just went with it.
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We tipped him $1.50 for his service which he was extremely happy with. He wasn’t a very good guide and if anything rushed us around the cave but we both figured that he probably needs that money much more than we do. 15937121_10154084063811176_7926549764338347048_o
That evening we booked our bus for the next day to Sihanoukville, got some take away dumplings and watched TV in bed.

Harrowing history in Phnom Penh

We arrived in Phnom Penh around 8am after a long overnight layover at Kuala Lumpur. Once we landed we headed to passport control, filled out a form and paid $35 each for a another stamp in our passport.

We arrived at our accommodation (RS Guesthouse) after a 30 minute tuk tuk ride but of course it was too early to check in. We dumped our bags at reception and decided to head out and explore. Actually when I say reception it was actually a mini mart that had a guesthouse on top. You had to check in at the counter of the shop which was kind of strange but super handy if you fancied a snack as you didn’t even have to leave the building.

We walked around for a couple of hours stopping to check out the palace and a few other monuments along the way before grabbing some lunch and finally checking in.
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Our room was quite nice for the price we paid and had both a private bathroom and air con! The only annoying thing was that there was building works all day from 8am until at least 5pm so it always sounded like someone was drilling through our roof.

The next day we headed out to meet our tuk tuk driver we had booked for the day. He planned to take us to the Killing Fields and the S-21 (Tuol Sleng) museum. We arrived at the museum and paid $6 for admission and an audio guide. The museum used to be a school that was turned into a prison by Pol Pot in 1975.
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Pol Pot used to capture and torture people here before taking them to the Killing Fields and executing them. Over 14,000 people passed through this centre and would be tortured until they gave in and wrote a false confession. Sadly after confessing they were brutally murdered. The museum displays the head shots of all the victims which were taken as they arrived to the prison, it also provided extensive information on the horrific events that occurred between 1975 and 1979.img_1940On our way out we learnt that during this time there were only 7 survivors from the S-21 prison and only 2 of them are alive today. One of the survivors Bou Meng was at the museum to tell his story and we were fortunate enough to meet him. Charlie approached him first as I was quite upset, seeing him made everything we had just learnt about feel all the more real. Our hearts broke for him as we learnt about his time there. Although he survived his wife and kids did not. We were touched by his friendly nature and cheerfulness after meeting him, especially in a place many people wouldn’t revisit after experiencing what he has. We purchased his book and he offered to have a photo with us. He even held my hand and gave me a hug after the photo was taken.img_1935We left the museum and headed to the Killing Fields where the Khmer Rouge used to take the prisoners after they confessed to execute and bury them. We paid $6 again and got an audio guide which was again proved vital in order to hear about all that happened there. Most of the people there were executed by having their throats cut, they chose to kill people this way as it was quieter but also inexpensive. The fields are lined with mass graves, the largest one containing more than 450 bodies.img_1939One particularly shocking part of the fields is the killing tree which stands next to a mass grave of women and children. This tree was used as a weapon to kill infants/toddlers who would be held by their feet and bashed to death against the tree. We were shocked at how long this secret went on for and how it really isn’t all that long ago. The tour end at the memorial where a glass tower of 17 floors displays over 9000 sculls found in the fields.img_1941They haven’t even excavated all the graves and whilst walking around you can see bones and clothing that are still rising to the surface.

We had a pretty chilled out evening after quite a powerful and emotional day. We had dinner at a place called Kabbas which was really nice before heading home.