In February 2013 I went to Cambodia on a two week tour, the following post is what I got up to along with photos to show you what is was all about, hope you enjoy it!
Day 1 - Bangkok
After a 12hr flight from London, going through the mandatory airport process of passport checks, collecting bags, I hopped into a taxi to take me into Bangkok. It was evening and I was tired and was just looking forward to getting something to eat and some rest. I flew in a day early before my tour started, just so to get my bearings. The hotel I checked into was also the one the tour would start from which is a good idea for those doing tours, it just makes things easier and provides less hassle. I for one don’t want to be in a hotel in the other side of town when the tour starts in another hotel.
Day 2 - Bangkok
Had to check out and check in again. Checked the news board to see what time the tour group would be meeting, once that was noted, headed out into the city, went to Wat Phra Kaew for a few hours. It was a hot day. That afternoon was back at the hotel and was given my new room key, so dumped my bags in there and noticed a fellow travelers bag in the room. Made my way to the reception area for the meet-up. Our tour leader Kevin seemed an eccentric character on first impressions. He herded us all into the restaurant where we all spent an hour hearing what we’re going to do. This time also allowed us to introduce each other to the group. Daunting when its just you amongst strangers. Within a short time, we formed connections that would later define friendships. On Kevin’s suggestion, we all went to dinner that evening, after dinner Kev took us to Khoasan Road, vibrant, loud, in your face, an experience.
Day 3 - Battambang
Early morning departure, those who did, had breakfast, then we boarded our minivan to the border at Poipet in which we crossed by foot through immigration. It didn't take long but once everyone was cleared, we all casually crossed the border into Cambodia. We got onto another minivan and carried on our journey to Battambang which took about 2 hours. Once checked into our hotel and freshened up, we all made our way to ride the Bamboo train. Run by a six horse power engine, these makeshift improvised rail vehicles are made out of bamboo where a small mat is placed for sitting down. Being so low to the ground and running up to speeds of 50 kilometres an hour, you really feel as though you're humming along the old rickety tracks, you’ll definitely feel it in your hips. It’s fast and to the western world highly dangerous, but it sure is great fun to ride it.
Day 3-5 - Siem Reap
These 3 days were amazing. Once checked in, we all had a few hours to chill, some decided to do their washing, some rested up and some just relaxing by the pool. Over the course of these days, we had fun, explored, did a cookery class but least not forgot, visit the mighty impressive Angkor Wat. Enough of me warbling, here’s the photos to explain it all!
Day 6 - Kampong Cham
Travelled to the 3rd largest city in Cambodia. Arrived slightly earlier than scheduled. Options available to us was to meet for lunch and then afterwards either take a boat cruise or hire bikes to ride across the Bamboo Bridge which spanned the Mekong River.The majority choose the bike ride. The bridge is a solid bamboo structure built on Koh Paen Island across the Mekong. On the other side are Cham and Khmer villages, entirely mounted on stilts. The bamboo bridge can withstand heavy loads such as trucks. The bridge is washed away as the river rises in the wet season, and access to the island is only possible by boat, but it is rebuilt again every dry season. At first you feel apprehensive cycling but the nerves soon fade away. We visited some temples on Koh Paen Island and even stopped to have fresh mango. There was a slight accident with one member of our group on the bike. The bike chain snapped and he fell off with cuts to his knee, arms and elbow. It wasn’t serious though did look painful. So word of warning, just be careful when riding. That evening we enjoyed a local dinner. We were all guests to a beautiful family who cooked for us. It was pretty amazing, to be invited into a strangers house then then to be offered food. It’s times like these that make you wonder the wonderment of humanity. Everyone enjoyed themselves and with the two hammocks in the room, some of us decided to make use of them for a post food nap to the amusement of the others.
Day 7 Kratie
On day 7 it was a 7 hour drive from the North West to the North East of the country passing through villages, rural landscapes before we eventually arriving at Kratie on the banks of the famed Mekong River . We all headed to Kampi and on arrival made our way down the banks to spend the afternoon chilling and relaxing and enjoy the moment. Most of us dipped into the very fast currents of the Mekong and some including myself spent some time basking in the heat of the sun whilst being cooled by the water. Later on we all headed out to a big waterway with local boatman to try and spot the endangered Irrawaddy Freshwater Dolphin. As we waited patiently the Dolphins would tease us ever so warmly, only giving us glimpses of them before vanishing. I didn’t manage to photograph them but as a consolation did capture the golden sun in the late afternoon as well as attempts of the group trying to photograph these wonderful creatures.
Day 8-9 Phnom Penh
Spent 2 days in the capital. Upon arrival, we all went out on a Cyclo Tour of the city, each having their own Cyclo driver. Our drivers were sourced through the Cyclo Centre, an NGO that was set up in 2004 that provides micro-finance, health programs, language lessons and cyclo workshops for the drivers. It was pretty amazing to experience the city whilst sitting in front of the cyclo, watching traffic pass by, early on it was a bit unnerving but the nerves soon disappeared and I got into my stride of taking some great photos from a great vantage point. In the evening we all visited the famed FFC Club for light eats and drinks. The Foreign Correspondents Club is on the second floor of an old French Colonial building which is somewhat popular with ex-pats and tourists alike. The open balcony gave us views of the river front whilst slowly sipping the evening away and using the time to get to know my fellow travellers a bit more and reflect on the trip to date. On the second day we made our way to visit the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. You can read about my visit here
Day 10 - Kampot
A short 2 hour drive eastwards along the coast to Kampot and the world renowned Kampot peppers. We visited Phnom Vor Farm to see these famous peppers first hand and some even tried it and others bought some to take home. Like the days before us, it was hot and we all made light of it all, some of us even danced around plantation. A brief history lesson regarding Kampot pepper in that it has been cultivated in Cambodia for more than a 1000 years. The first known document account is from the Chinese emissary Zhou Daguan in his reports of his visit to Angkor in 1296. Forward onto the French colonisation of Indochina in the 1800’s, this brought Kampot Pepper to the dining tables of the West for the first time and its stayed with us since.
On our way back we made a stop to visit the Phnom Chhnork Cave Temple along a very dusty road, so dusty our driver stopped to buy us dust masks. As soon as we arrived children surrounded our tuk tuks and like tourist police, they offered to guide us to the Cave temple for a small fee. Infectious group of children they were, ever so inquisitive asking a hundred questions. Walking up to the Cave was still dusty. I kept worrying about my sensor and lenses on my camera, followed by the immense dust on my trousers. Sounds childish thinking about it now but then it was a concern for me, the dust on the sensor and lenses that is. The temple is a Hindu cave temple, and only accessible by climbing stone steps up rock faces which some may find difficult as there is no safety measures in place, so word of warning so those who are more safety inclined but that said if you're up for a little adventure and small spaces its an experience to be had.
The most memorable moment of the day was yet to come, on our way back to our hotel, we stopped just before the sun was setting at the Kampot salt fields. Seeing the sun setting was beyond stunning, the colours changing and we all collectively stood there admiring it all and for me it was a realisation that this trip would soon end but also of the friends I’ve made along the way, a truly epic moment and a gift from Cambodia.
Day 11-12 - Sihanoukville
For me this would be the last two days I would have with an amazing group of people whom were now my friends. It’s sort of bittersweet knowing that the journey would end but I didn’t want it to end, like the fire in all of us who travel, I wanted it to shine bright and last forever, to keep the happy smiles, the laughter, the jokes the sense of unity going! We were just getting used being around each other, being more and more comfortable with everyone, slowly being ourselves without the worry of what they would think. But all good things always come to an end.
We were in Sihanoukville, the beachside town with a coastline bedecked with sandy beaches and picture perfect tropical islands fringed with coconut trees swaying ever so effortlessly. Somewhat fitting end to a near 2 weeks of adventure, discovery and wonderment. We all took a stroll down to the beach to grab a bite to eat, the hotel was about a 10 min walk away. On these last two days we went to an island to soak up the sun, swim, relax, play games, the things you do when you in the sun, with water around you and your with friends. We also splintered off into our little groups to explore, some cycling to other beaches, and on the last day we all had the last meal (well for me anyhow) on the beach with the open seas behind us. It was pretty memorable. Kevin had bought some fireworks for us to let off once the sun went down, you had children coming round ever so often offering to sell them. To the westerner these looked pretty dangerous, I mean I’m pretty sure you could lose an eye if it wasn’t pointed in the right direction. Actually one flew over my head whilst I was trying photograph them. The thing is when your with great company you tend you let yourself go a little, you learn to embrace the differences that world cultures offer and above you learn to use common sense. That night we hit a few clubs with what was left of us and we danced the night away until we couldn’t stand and we slowly headed back to our hotel at 2am or so.
To sum up the time I had in Cambodia ...throughout life, you meet people who will leave an indelible footprint in your psyche, sometimes you meet them in a group, like I did on my amazing journey through Cambodia. They each in turn enable you to see things and do things you never thought possible and they open your eyes to the wonderful world we live in. A year on and I am still in contact with the friends I made on that tour, just goes to show the power of allowing yourself to let go and embrace the new and unknown
Travelling is an amazing experience, its the greatest education one can get and adds more value to you as a person than anything else possible, live free, love life, go explore and see the world!
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