A Travellerspoint blog

Cambodia

New Year on Otres Beach

Near Sihanoukvillle.

We had spent a lot of time in Kampot and although we had a great time we knew for definite it was time to move on. The bus was booked and the early morning rise with standard stress of waiting for a pickup from bus company and it being late thankfully didn't distract us from looking forward to getting to the Beach. Upon the bus making it to our bungalow we knew that it was going to be a tight squeeze for the 6hr ride. The two people next to us, who sadly had to move because we needed to get to the back got the short straw as their seat didn't fully click in and therefore it was not the most comfortable from what I could tell. However, the good thing about being squashed up to someone is that you both feel compelled to acknowledge each other rather than keeping to yourself which happens a lot amongst travellers. We had a good chat with a guy called Mike who was from New Zealand he told us about his last minute booking for a room near Sihanoukvillle for New Year which cost him $90!!!. We didn't tell him we were only paying $6 despite his being a hotel and ours being a dorm room, however it was still a lot to pay for Cambodian standards I thought. Unfortunately, Mike was not staying at Otres so we didn't see him again but it was a welcome distraction from an otherwise uneventful trip.

We stayed at Wish You Were Here which is run by an Aussie guy Johnny who I found out was really into the Beastie Boys! He had a new cat which Sarah took a shining too, its name was chmaa which is cat in Khmer. It also had these fantastic hanging chairs which we both want in our house.

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We had read about Sihanoukville being the kind of place that tourism normally ruins and therefore were expectant that Otres would be far more chilled and thankfully it was. It still had guest houses lining the beach with some playing gangsta rap and some playing smooth lounge music mixed with backpackers and families who either are getting a massage or being sold items by the locals which you find in beach resorts but the intensity of it all was so laid back that it didn't ruin the experience (although Sarah did get annoyed that they kept touching her legs insisting they needed to be threaded when they didn't!).The beach itself is sublime and it didn't fault when providing us with ample sun, sunsets, shallow clear waters to cool off and a selection of bars that served fresh fish and chilled drinks, what more could you ask when waiting to see in the New Year.

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One of the nights during our time here we spent at Otres Market which was a cool bar area away from the beach which had music and stalls with people sitting around on mats, very hippy looking crossed with a village fete. They also had a treehouse and some swings that we pushed some of the local kids on causing lots of giggling. The rest of our nights were spent having a good meal and relaxing which we kinda did in Kampot but it just isn't the same when you have got a beach.

The only other thing that we did (that was a little disappointing) was the snorkelling boat trip that we bought into to go see the islands of Koh Russei and another two, the names which escapes me now. One of the local guys had sold it in and typically it didn't deliver what was sold. The snorkelling was average, mostly made up of poor corals and the boat was filled with too many people (30 instead 13) that a lot of us felt hard done by. We didn't really take many photos but what was fortunate was that we ended up chatting with some friendly people on the boat and on the beach area instead. Again, when you are all cramped up to each other you feel compelled to acknowledge the craziness in unison and chat about your experiences. It was great for that and the beach we stayed on was lush really, we just didn't take take advantage of it mainly because we were having a good time chatting with the people we met on the boat.

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I ended up sitting with Chris and Nicole on one side of the boat during our voyage from the mainland and we shared stories as they had been to places we were going and also they lived in Perth despite being from UK, so it was really interesting to hear how that came about and certainly distracted me enough to forget about the heat and the small space I had to sit in and that the boat was rolling so much it felt like you would fall in the water!

Sarah managed to get in on the chat and we met Pete and Michelle (who is Nicole's sister) and kinda all decided to meet up later after the trip for drinks which was really thoughtful of them because they were holidaying together. Sarah and I had only just before been discussing how it would be nice to meet some new people and spend more than a bus trip getting to know them and with the added bonus of New Year coming up it would be a perfect time to spend it with a group should the occasion arise, and thankfully it did.

The dinner we had was excellent, the portion sizes got the thumbs up from us boys and the rest of the evening we had some good chats, I kept getting the sea mixed up with the river ( we had spent time much time in Kampot!!). We learned about Chris's terminology of Sicko! which described a stereotypical Aussie guy who you normally see in bars when travelling wearing a vest and loves a beer!, we all took to it and it was the word of the night for the rest of New Year.

To sum up New Year, it was a blast!!

Our guesthouse and the another called Richie's had decided to put on a small beach party with sound system and small dance floor made with mats. It ended up being exactly what Sarah and I wanted. Good venue, good location and great people.

I will let the photos say it all. ( To those involved don't worry this isn't Hangover III the end scene!)

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Sorry Chris it had to feature.....
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Happy New Year 2013

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Stay tuned for more tales....

Dan

Posted by doyledan 06:10 Archived in Cambodia Tagged beach new year Comments (0)

Day trip to Rabbit Island (Koh Tonsay)

33 °C

The small coastal town of Kep is only a short bus ride from Kampot and you can hop on a boat from there to Rabbit Island.

We decided that this would be a good way to spend our last day in the area and so along with our new friends Jen and Lassi we got a tuk tuk at 7am to the bus station to make our way to the island. We organised getting their through our bungalow and were met by a guy from Green Tours in Kep who sorted out a boat for us. On the way to the pier that is a giant sculpture of a crab coming out of the sea! It is huge! Unfortunately I didn't have the camera out to get a pic of it. This area is famous for its seafood, particularly crab seasoned with Kampot pepper, so I think this is the reason for the giant statue. It seemed a bit chaotic at the pier as no one seemed to know what boat to get in but we were finally allocated to boat 9 and soon were on our way.

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The boat trip takes about 25 mins so there was plenty of time to pose for some shots...

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Solo album cover?

As we approached the island it was exactly what we were after... palm trees, beach huts, free sunlounging platforms and clear warm water to swim in (makes a change from the murky Mekong!)

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After a solid day of sunbathing we tried out the Xmas gift I gave to Dan which was a kind of shuttlecock with a feather on the end that you play keepy ups with. It's used by loads of people across Vietnam and Cambodia.

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We said farewell to Lassi and Jen who decided to stay on the island and made our way back to the mainland. Safe travels guys!

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We felt quite adventurous as we got to shore and decided to walk back to our bus stop. Despite only being about 4km as it was getting dark about half way we ended up catching a tuk back and continued our game of Yaniv to pass the time before the bus showed up. It was a hard fought game which we had to put on hold for the next day...and is still on going!

Our last night in Kampot we sampled to famous fish amok that our bungalows is known for...it's meant to be the best in Cambodia according to the expats that we met and it did not disappoint.

Oh and this is our little toad called Bert who we shared our shower room with. Bye Bert!

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Sxx

Posted by doyledan 08:29 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Christmas in Kampot!

There's no place like home...

sunny 30 °C

We knew we wanted to be near the coast for Xmas and new year so we started the journey back down south, breaking it up with an over night stop in Phnom Penh to see The Hobbit! As luck would have it the one night we were in town was its release date in Cambodia, perfect timing!

New year was going to be on Otres Beach and as we knew that area was really booked up we decided to chill out in the riverside town of Kampot over Xmas first. We had been given a recommendation of a place to stay right on the river and so headed there hoping there would be a room free, but it was fully booked! This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as they directed us next door to 'Bungalow Kampot River' and we got a great bungalow there for $6 a night. This turned out to be our 'holiday from travelling' as we decided to stay here for a week to recharge the batteries and celebrate Christmas.

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The bar/hangout area was on stilts out over the river complete with diving board and floating pontoon so you could jump straight into the water to cool off.

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Only problem is that if you are a muppet like I am you may knock your sunglasses off into the water and lose them to the murky depths. Being a tidal river the flow is constantly changing stirring up the sediment and so visibility under the water is really poor. A bit disconcerting not being able to see what else might be down there! Being prescription sunglasses it was a bit stressful losing them but after some helpful emails home (thanks Dad) I soon had my prescription and found a local opticians who made me some new ones in 24 hours for only $35! Bargain!

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Our first night it was meant to be the end of the world according to the Mayan predictions and so we decided to go to the end of the world party at Bodhis, another guesthouse a couple doors down the river. It was great fun and fireworks were set off over the river. At one point there was a power cut and for a few moments you could feel the anxiety in the room...was this actually the end of the world....but soon enough the lights were on, the music was blaring and dancing resumed. Walking down to the deck area on stilts over the river Dan did not see a gap and disappeared between the slats into the river. Fortunately he was ok other than a bang to his leg and the embarrassment of everyone stopping and looking after hearing the splash and taking photos as he emerged! Unfortunately I didn't have our camera, it would have been a good pic!

Most of our days were spent relaxing by the river, reading, sleeping, blogging, cycling, exploring the town (home to the giant durian fruit roundabout) etc...

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One day we decided to rent a moto and explore Bokor National Park.

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There is a road that snakes its way up Bokor mountain to the hill station at the top which is being redeveloped into a huge resort.

This sign sums the road up...

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It was great fun if not a little hair raising at times going round all the hairpin bends but the views along the way were amazing and on a good day you can see the Gulf of Thailand.

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This is the moment a pesky monkey scared me by jumping behind me out of nowhere!

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At the top is the old hotel/casino called the Bokor Palace. Apparently people used to throw themselves off the top if they had had a bad night gambling! This and the rest of the resort/hill station were abandoned in 1970s when the Khmer Rouge came into the area creating a ghost town. It was a great building to walk around as it is completely empty and you could imagine how grand it had once been.

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That night we had our first huge storm since we have been travelling and the first rain we had seen since leaving China! It was really dramatic with rain splashing up from the water and booming thunder. There was a mad rush to move all the chairs and cushions away from the waters edge as the rain was blown in and we huddled by the bar and watched the lightning over the river.

We were struggling to find the festive spirit in Kampot although if you looked hard you saw the occassional sign it was approaching.

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We asked around town if there was anything going on and found out that a traditional Xmas dinner was happening on Xmas eve! At $20 each it was a bit expensive but we rationalised that at home we would probably be spending the same on an Xmas dinner out and as we were missing home some traditional Xmas grub was exactly what we needed! And it didn't disappoint! Turkey, lamb, pumpkin squash, stuffing = yum. Oh and cold Chenin Blanc :)

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The moon was amazing too and we could see all the craters, a great night!

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Xmas day was spent catching up with friends and family and it was great to Skype home and see everyone :) Miss you all!

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Xmas night was spent celebrating at Madis bar with some great live music that had the whole place dancing.

We ve met quite a few interesting characters here but staying for a week in one place you see and hear alot and think one of the things we ve realised is that we wouldn't want to live this expat lifestyle. No matter where you are in the world your baggage follows you it seems and boy do these guys like to talk about their woes over and over again!

So don't worry folks we ll be coming home at some point :)

Hope you all had fab Xmas!

Sxxx

Posted by doyledan 04:09 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Bats of Battembang

On the elephant project we had heard about bat caves in Battembang where every sunset millions of bats fly out of the cave for their evening feast of insects. This was something we needed to see for ourselves and so we took the now relatively short bus journey to Battambang from Siem Reap. Also we wanted to go here purely for the fact that Battembang sounds a bit like Battenberg and I love Battenberg cake. Probably should point out that this is where the similarities stop and we did not find any Battenberg cake here...sad times but we did see the bats...good times!

It was only going to be a flying visit on our journey back south towards the coast for Xmas and new year and after paying a bit more in Siem Reap so we could have a pool to cool off in we were pleased to find the Tomato guesthouse where our own room was only $1.50 each! Cheap as chips :)

The bat caves are located on a limestone hill called Phnom Sampeau which is also where another more ominous cave is known as the Killing Caves. This is where the Khmer Rouge killed over 2000 people and is now a memorial to the people who died there with a reclining Buddha inside and a temple also resides at the top. We decided to check this out before the flight of the bats.

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It was quite a steep walk up the hill and we were joined by a couple of enthusiastic kids who made it look so easy running around us and even raced Dan a short distance whilst a plodded up behind them. It was a good thing it was late afternoon, in the heat of the day it would have been even harder! We passed a smaller temple on the way to the caves and were inundated with different people asking for donations for the road and although we obliged it felt a bit odd as we had already paid the fee to go up and so you would think that should go to the road?

The kids lead as to the killing caves and it is a really eerie place. As we walked down into the cave they pointed out the opening in the ceiling, like a skylight, at one end of the cave. This was where people would have been bludgeoned at the top before being chucked through the skylight to their death. It was sickening to think that where we were standing so many bodies would have landed and by the memorial Buddha there was a glass box containing their bones as a reminder of what happened here. We didn't stay down their too long and were pleased to climb back out into the sun.

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We continued to the top to see the temple and also the great view.

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There were also lots of monkeys at the temple but they looked a bit scary so we stayed out their way!

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At the temple we met a Swedish guy called Patrick who was travelling on his own and told us how on his way to Battenbang he got chatting to a local girl on the bus who wanted to practice her English. The family then invited him to go and see their house and join them for a hot pot dinner. Once they found out he had not sorted his accommodation yet they insisted that he stayed the night with them! Another example of Cambodian hospitality :) We made our way back down the hill to wait for the bats to come out! We had misjudged the time and had an hour to kill and so sat chatting with the tuk tuk drivers and had a cold refreshing drink....or so I thought! Unknown to me a bee had got into my can of Sprite and I did not find out until I tried to drink it and it stung the roof of my mouth making me spit it out all over Dan! I ve never been stung before so it was a bit of a shock particularly as I could feel the stinger still stuck and Dan had to try to get it out. Bit of a drama but I survived!

Lesson learned keep an eye on your drink...another one was on the can in an instant

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As I recovered Dan joined the tuk tuk drivers in playing their version of keepy uppy.

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Then it was time and we eagerly waited beneath the entrance of the cave for the bat spectacular! You could hear them all making clicks and noises to each other in the cave. As we waited a young guy who was studying to be a lawyer at the university in Battambang came to talk to us to practice his English. He was really friendly and when I was off taking videos of the bats he asked Dan how he could get an English girlfriend :) I'm not sure what tips were given but they had a good chat.

He told us that an estimated 2 billion bats live in the cave and fly out every evening at the same time to feed on the insects. It takes over an hour for them all to fly out of the cave. The numbers are unfathomable even when you are watching it....really was a breath taking sight as the continuously stream out of the cave. Definitely one of the most impressive wildlife phenomenons I ve seen with my own eyes.

This is just 45 seconds of the flight of the bats....literally millions of them...

Just remember if you go to keep your mouth shut as you look up in wonder as they fly out doing their other business too!

Sxxx

Posted by doyledan 20:25 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Siem Reap and Angkor Temples

Upon finishing our time at the Elephant Valley we knew we wanted to head west in search of temples. This would require us to travel across country via bus for 12 hours (it actually turned out to be 16) but we had done it all before so we jumped on in the morning and made our way to Siem Reap. The journey was relatively easy but a bit too long, fortunately we had booked our hostel ahead and was able to get a tuk tuk. The bus stops in Cambodia are always very odd, never really located for ease of the passenger rather more for the bus driver as we had been dropped off at the depot, which had been fenced off to stop locals coming into the area and supposedly stealing. We thought it could also be a cartel of tuk tuks who make sure they get first dibs on passengers. Either way we got our transport and excepted that the 4 dollar cost was fine despite it probably being inflated.

Our hostel was chosen specifically for the pool that it had as we knew we would be cycling around the Angkor site and we would need cooling down after long days. This was a blessing as we were so hot and fed up from the bus ride that as soon as we checked in we jumped in. However we had to do this all with torches as the hostel had had a power cut, a slight concern but when we were chilling in the pool it really didn't matter and the power came on pretty soon after. (You learn to take things a little easier as time goes)

Our next day would be the longest cycling excursion taking the larger outer ring road bypassing the famous Angkor Wat and taking in the smaller sites. This was recommended to us in order to save the best till last. So off we set on our bikes and we stopped to buy our 3 day ticket for $40 each. As we went through the ticket checkers sold us the option to see Angkor Wat at sunrise and further afield sites of Bantrey Srei, Landmine Museum and the Butterfly Centre. It was a good deal and we set it up for the next day.

Our route would be 40km in total and we saw many temples, some of which I have listed below. The day was a great introduction into the sheer size of the area and we felt like we had our own mini adventure. Here are some of the best bits we saw.

Prasat Kraven
Bantrey Kdei with Sran Srang lake
Baray of Phreah Khan
Pre Rup
East Mebon

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This was the first site we reached which was a shrine called Prasat Kraven meaning Cardamom Sanctuary. It was small in its size and did not have many hallmarks of the famous Angkor Wat but was interesting nonetheless, mainly for the way they were able to build into the wall a almost 3D shape.

Before we left to go to the next site we were approached by locals trying to sell souvenirs and drinks, something that would be a regular occurrence throughout the trip. The little kids got the look down to a treat making it hard to say no but we knew that buying from these kids was not doing them any favours as it would essentially keep them out of school so we refrained and moved on.

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This site called Pre Rup had a more similar look to what we recognise as Angkor and we had a good walk around despite the stifling heat and also walked to the top to take in the view.

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We found Elephants at East Mebon.

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We found this at the Bantrey Kdei site and it looked straight out of Indiana Jones film.

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After our long day we ventured in Siem Reap for dinner. We must of been so tired because we can't remember where we had dinner but it was good. Later we walked the night markets but with the early start on our minds we went back to hostel and saved the batteries.

Next morning we were treated with probably the most stunning moments of our trip so far. Sunrise at Angkor Wat. We both were excited about this before reaching Siem Reap but words almost couldn't describe the view we saw. The early start meant we approached the Angkor Wat site in pitch black ( silly dopes we forgot our torch) fortunately there was a young Cambodian girl who sold drinks who helped us out and we met up with her later to by some drinks from her stall to repay the small favour. Standing by the small pond that is situated outside the main temple we waited and it certainly was worth it. The change of colour as the morning sun rose was breathtaking and there was a sense of satisfaction that we had seen one of the 7 wonders of the world at such a perfect time.

Sarah took some incredible shots which I think captures the beauty of it.

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As the sun rose we walked around the site and got to see the outer moat that surrounds the area. It was built during the reign of Suryavarman II both as a city capitol and a state temple. ('Angkor' meaning 'City' and 'Wat' meaning 'Temple'). But also it is said that the temple mimics the home of the devas from Hindu mythology that is situated on Mount Meru.

After a quick baguette from a local vendor ( yes there is food served as well) we hopped in our tuk tuk and our driver started the long trip to Bantrey Srei. It was a good scenic trip with another opportunity to see rural life in Cambodia. The site is extra special due to intricate carvings that have managed to sustain the test of time. To look at these designs you would think that it had only been done this year. They were incredible to look at as the symmetry and depth of each design could have you staring for hours. It was believed that due to the intricacy's of the carvings it was more likely that women made these as they would have required a far more delicate approach. The site was built by one of the future Khmer King's counsellor's or guru. The name Bantrey Srei means 'Citadel of Beauty' and it certainly held firm to its name as it was one of the better temples to really see the Khmer's abilities in stone carvings.

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One thing that amazed me was how they built all the temples considering they did not have machinery to aid them. The size of the blocks that made the walls were at least 1ft cubed and were heavy. I was interested to find out that they vegtables compound to hold the blocks in place which is why you don't see any mortor joints.

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After a delicious Khmer lunch we moved on to see the Landmine Museum,a non-govrnment organisation (NGO), which was a real eye opener to the real affect War has had on Cambodia and the rest of what we call Indochina. We were fortunate that when we got there a tour was just starting with an American guy who had started working full time with the founder of the museum Aka Ra. He had heard about Aka's story and instead of just sending some money he decided to up sticks and move out to Cambodia to help with the foundation. His knowledge and passion for the cause really helped us understand the magnitude of what they face in terms of ridding the country of landmines and helping local children gain the education they need to have a better life.

The Cambodian Landmine Museum and Relief Facility (Museum for short) was established in 1997 by ex-child soldier Aki Ra. After years of fighting he returned to the villages in which he planted thousands of mines and began removing them, by hand, and defusing them with homemade tools. Aka also saw the hard lives young children were experiencing in the rural areas and decided to help by offering a home to these troubled kids which allows the to live and learn at the same time so that can get the education they desperately need to achieve a better standard of life.

The cause itself was very admirable and we were glad that we stopped by, however it was shocking to hear the difficulties they have with the bureaucracy and cruption in that is rife in Cambodia's politics right now. One example was that the location of the museum had to be outside of Siem Reap due to the fact that the local General owned the museum in the centre of town and therefore it is seen as competition meaning there are forced to stay on the outskirts, it was a hard fact to swallow.

The stories we got from the American guy helped us understand just how much the Vietnam War has affected Cambodia with families losing members due to unexploded mines. We were shown a map of US bombing missions over Cambodia during that period and it was nearly half the country. It was the US attempts to seal over the trails of supplies to the Vietnamese but it just looked like a free for all. They reckon that the amount of unexploded devices that surround the country will take over a 100 years to clear and what's frustrating for them is a that the don't have the governments financial backing so it is all done through fund raising which our American tour guide plays a huge part in.

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He also told us about a possible break through that could change things dramatically. One of the problems they face is that it takes a huge amount of time to clear an area known to have landmines. This is because the techniques used are still relatively basic. You set out an area with sticks and poke the ground until you find something mental and then dig around it before exploding it in its location. If you are lucky and you can afford the $20,000 mental detectors you can scan the ground rather than poking it, but even then you still have all other bits of mental to contend with. A possible breakthrough we were told about is that a student at Stamford in USA is developing an app which could be plugged into the mental detector which then would provide a visual of what was in the ground and therefore would speed up the process drastically that larger areas could be covered in a shorter space of time. Lets hope this can be discovered and put into action sooner rather than later.

We left the museum for the butterfly sanctuary and Sarah's was able to finally get her picture of a butterfly. it wasn't the best place to visit but we did get a short tour from a friendly Cambodian guy who was very knowledgable and enthusiastic. We even got to see a stick insect! They are huge!

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Later that evening we had the pleasure of meeting up with our friend Jude as she had decided to stay longer in Cambodia. We had a delicious meal at the Red Piano catching up about our experiences through Vietnam.

Next day would be our last around the temples and we decided to use the cycles again to go round the shorter tour which takes in Bayon, Angkor Thom, Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm. As we had seen Angkor and Thom and Angkor Wat the day before we concentrated on the other two. the Bayon a state temple is one of the most powerful religious constructions according to historians. It's design is complex and includes many faces carved into the walls and statues. As you walk into the first outer wall and upstairs you instantly get a different experiences as the platform as it tree height and is far more peaceful.

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Our next stop was Ta Prohm, made famous for its use in the Tomb Raider film, however me and Sarah just felt like we were in an Indiana Jones scene.

It was a temple-monastery and had been taken over by the jungle until it was found. It was decided that it should be kept in this way to show what it would have looked like upon discovery. An inspired decision as a lot of people venture to this area now to see it and to be fair me and Sarah really liked it. A significant amount of work that went into keeping the area from collapsing which you can visibly see.

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Siem Reap is a nice place to relax, the pub street caters for all kinds of culinary choice and we were certainly guilty of enjoying a few western treats.

It was a good few days.

Stay tuned for more tales

Dan

Posted by doyledan 19:18 Archived in Cambodia Tagged temples Comments (0)

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