Seim Reap – Temples of Angkor
Renting bicycles for $2 we cycled out of Seim Reap and into the jungle. After around half an hour of easy riding we reached an opening through the trees and a lake appeared ahead of us. In the distance, across the lake, I took my first glimpse of Angkor Wat, one of the most impressive site of archeticture I have ever seen. As I walked across the lake, the dark stone entrance towered above me, passing through, feeling like a mere mortal in this temple of Gods I was faced with a large expanse of green and water. Across the pristine field and fountains stood the main temple, an even more impressive site, the dark black stone caved and climbing to the sky consumed my view as I stood and gazed in wonder. This place was built as a representation of heaven on earth and it doesn’t disappoint. Cycling further through the jungle we found Bayon in the centre of Ankor Thon, with its surreal and intimidating cavings, it’s easy to lose yourself in this temple. Next it was on to Ta Keo – the mountain temple, not quite as tall as a mountain but a rewarding climb to the top up huge steep steps. Ta prohn was the next temple we found and my favourite of all. Taken back by the jungle, it displays nature and human workmanship in tangled to create beauty. This temple was also a location for the Tomb Raider film so you can act as Lara Croft to your hearts content.
A busy and bustling city set out in a grid system which I can’t seem to find my bearings in! We checked into Mini Banana, a side street guesthouse where the owner and staff make your stay one big party, starting with their legendary ‘grenade’ drink. They are very inviting and include everyone in their fun. The Russian market (getting its name from the Russian tourists who used to flock there) is a covered network of stalls selling everything from Angkor Wat t-shirts to moped parts to raw meats, a real maze of intrigue. Just outside the market is a little souvenir shop called Ta Prohm, a shop profiting for a self help team of woman with disabilities. It has lots of well made, fair trade gifts including scarfs, bags and cute little silk animals. My time in Phnom Penh taught me a lot about Cambodias past, the horrors displayed at both S21 and the killing fields shows a snip it of the nightmares the people here lived through and I would advise anyone visiting Cambodia to visit.
Sihanoukville is a coastal town big on drinking and nightlife. For me it was simply a gateway to Koh Rong – although the amok served in a hollowed out coconut from Grand Kampuchea was the best meal of my trip so far! Rich and creamy with a nutty texture, it was a mouthwatering dish.
Koh Rong – An Ocean Paradise
Not as popular as the Thai islands, Cambodia’s little slices of paradise are less developed which perhaps helps give them their charm. Pure white sands, turquoise warm waters, and a handful of beach shacks give Koh Rong a peace and tranquility hard to beat. Strolling along deserted beaches, snorkelling in quiet bays and hitching a ride with the local longboat made up my time on the island. Pure bliss!
Kampot – Motorbikes and Mountains
Kampot proved to be a pretty eventful place for such a sleepy little town. Our first adventure was to take on Bokor Mountain by motorbike. It happened to be the first time I’d ever rode a motorbike and after a short and jolty self taught lesson I found myself, with two other novices, at the foot of the mountain range. I managed to get the hang of it quickly and found it quite easy and enjoyable, the girl I was with however didn’t share my new found confidence. I kept her in my wing mirror at all times to check she was doing ok, it was only on a sharp bend a little way in to our journey, that I lost sight of her so pulled over to wait. A few minutes later and no sign of her I turned back, around a couple of bends I found her, face down in the dirt! She had lost control, hit a crash barrier and flown over the handlebars. With a nasty gouge out of her leg and scratches all over, she needed to be seen to. With remarkable luck a pick up truck happened to drive past and was able to take her to hospital.
On reaching the summit of Bokor Mountain you are greeted with a strange and eerie sight. An abandoned holiday resort from the 50’s, all that stands is gutted hotels and a vandalised church, however a few meters across your view lies a brand new casino, overpowering and ugly against the landscape, it is built to serve tens of thousands, only there is nobody up there. Perhaps potential for a future holiday destination or maybe deemed to the same fait as its 1950’s equalulant.
Rice fields, caves and Kep crab
Day two and back on the bikes. This time we swop tarmac for dirt tracks as we weaved in and out of rice fields, dodging pot holes and muddy puddles. After a few hours we came to a large rock. Only after paying a young local boy a few dollars, did it come clear this was the entrance to a cave. Scrambling through tiny crevices, jumping into darkness and clambering back up the other side led us to a vast open space within the cave. Ruins lay in the corner of the cave, an ancient temple standing the length of time until the Khmer Rogue destroyed it in their rein. Exiting the cave, the evening was creeping in and we rode an hour further to the town of Kep. Parking up on the seafront we were just in time to order some famous Kep crab. We watched as the local woman waded into the sea to collect the crab basket from which they cooked there and then, can’t get fresher than that! We pulled apart the steaming crab as the sun set, turning the sky a wonderful pink. If your visiting Kampot, a meal at the epic cafe is a winner. A charity cafe run by deaf and disabled people. The ‘epic porridge’ was the best porridge I have ever eaten! Served with honey, raisins, casew nuts and milk, the smooth and creamy oats really hit the spot!
Located close to the Thailand border, this town has a gentle atmosphere and some really good places to eat! The Gecko Cafe was paid a visit at least 4 times in our short stay and had a great range of local and Mexican food on offer. The waitresses really make the place, always delightful, serving your food with a big smile. The lime and mint freeze is really tasty and refreshing as well. There is also a cute little shop underneath the cafe, selling tasteful gifts and jellewery. Fresh eats – a charity cafe helping people living with HIV and AIDS and Coconut water- empowering local woman, are both great places for breakfast and also have local products and gifts to buy. Having tried such tasty cuisine in Cambodia it seemed a cooking course was a good option. The smoking pot cookery school taught us how to cook, from scratch, fish amok, beef loa lak, and chha mrab prow. Three traditional Cambodian dishes which all turned out surprisingly tasty for a can’t cook won’t cook! Definitely a great activity for learning the culture through something a bit different. Walking around the streets one evening, we came across MAKE MAEK, an art gallery hoping to encourage collaborations between local and international artists. At the back of the gallery was a great little shop with old photographs and vintage items for sale, not gimmicky at all, there is a strong chance of finding some real treasures on the dusty shelves.
Crossing into Thailand
Get the bus to Poi pet – the Cambodian border, walk into Thailand and get back on the bus to Bangkok, sounds simple enough. However, we weren’t the only ones with this route in mind, queuing at Thai immigration took almost 3 hours in the blazing mid day sun. I don’t even have any tips to avoid it, it just seems we were unlucky with our timing. Following this 12 hour journey we took the night train straight to Chiang Mai, another 10 hour journey but the carriage bunks seemed like luxury once we had got through that day!