Friday, 22nd November

It was a lazier start. We were up to go for breakfast at 8.00 am. It was a nice sunny day. We were off to the country!

We set off out of town. The traffic was quite heavy. It is still a public holiday it seems.

However having headed out of town, we found the rural community busy with the timeless hum of life away from the hustle and bustle of the City. The broad thoroughfare lined with shops and works of all kinds, garages and hotels is behind us and now there are fields being worked by older ladies and wooded areas. We then came to a small community, tuk tuks, motorbikes and scooters ruled the traffic. Cars seemed in the minority.

We were dropped off at the entrance to the market. The whole place was humming. First stop was a stall selling some thing that looked like a small potato but turned out to be a very sweet fruit with a black pip. Next came a similar coloured round fruit similar to a lychee.

Next came barbecued rice bananas …..

We tasted and we stared and wandered for an hour, occasionally jostled by scooters mixing with the pedestrians.

Many stalls sold fish from the lake nearby – all were being gutted and de scaled by very skilled hands wielding huge cleavers with amazing dexterity. I could not help but feel that I would lose at least three fingers in the first five minutes if I attempted these activities. Sometimes one feels very inadequate and in awe of other people……!

It was a true kaleidoscope of colour and delight……

There were live crabs from the rice fields – apparently you have to put your hands in their holes to pull them out……..

They were sold live!

Corn……

Morning glory and water hyacinths – all used in cooking!

…….ice and chickens

Firelighters…..

And betel nuts to make your teeth red!

Sadly in the end we had to leave, but what rich pickings!

Just around the corner en route to the bus – a petrol station!

We were then off to the water. We were heading for Tonle Sap Lake. As we neared the area, canals appeared either side of the road. Here men fished in very shallow muddy water. As we watched, their nets frequently came up empty…….

At this point I am going to pause as it is lights out! Tomorrow we are off to a ‘homestay’ with few facilities. I am not sure when Wi-fi will be available, but I will return to this extraordinary outing……..

Thursday, 22nd November

After a pretty sleepless night, we were up at 4.00 am to be ready to leave at 4.45 to catch the sunrise over Angkor Wat. This is the big one. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is said to be one of the largest religious monuments in the world. Armed with this information we put the best face possible on being up and setting off in the dark to see it.

First stop was the ticket office. It had the feel of a busy railway station, with countless booths selling tickets. Each ticket has a photo of the owner on it, which is a nice touch and I thought I did not turn out too badly for the unearthly hour it was taken……!

Of course when we arrived at the site with a million other people to see this wonder the inevitable occurred. It was cloudy and there was no real sunrise! Nevertheless it was amazing to see such a world renowned edifice slowly emerge from the gloom in which we first saw it.

Gradually as the light gradually infused the scene the silhouette and reflections improved. It is a vast site and (very reminiscent of the Mexican Mayan monuments I thought ) emerged from the vegetation which engulfed it over centuries. Of choice ruse the local villagers knew it was there, but it took Europeans to draw attention to it and reveal it from its overgrown state.

Angkor Wat derives its name from the terms ‘Angkor’ meaning city and ‘Wat’ meaning temple. Angkor was the capital and wealthiest city of Cambodia until the capital was moved to Pnom Penn. It, and it’s surrounding religious sites, cover a vast area. Angkor Wat is seen to be the finest and best quality structure, although we were to see 5 very different monuments during the day. Angkor Wat, built in 37 years, started life as a Hindu temple dedicated to Vishnu for the Khmer Empire. It was built in the early 12th Century by King Suryavarman and ultimately became his mausoleum. By the end of the 12 century it had been transformed to Buddhism.

There was a lot to see and some lovely shadows and etchings but we were unable get to the highest point because it was a Buddha day and there ceremonies taking place. The sound of chanting could be heard throughout our visit.

Leaving the Angkor Wat site……..

Following this we visited four temples and one citadel. Many showed signs of being adversely affected by tree roots. Most figures have lost their heads due to looting or heads being removed to prevent looting – to my mind amounting to the same thing, headless figures! It was a challenging day because of the heat and the number of other tourists involved, but all of the places we saw merited the visit and were fascinating in their own way but we were exhausted at the end!

A few pictures to tempt you and I will try to get the names right in the order we saw them……. As my first typing letters would say ‘E&OE’ – Errors and Omissions Excepted!

First came the Citadel, which was near a lake.

The chap in charge at this stage sounds a pretty good egg. He built hospitals and free road houses for travellers. All very enlightened!

Next we visited Preah Khan where we saw the first evidence of trees growing through stonework. Extraordinary! The area was approached by a bridge where monks created a great contrast to the dark stonework….

On the way there we came to a sort of side chapel where, once again I was surprised how similar the architecture was to that which we came across in Mexico. Even the way it was built……..

The next picture is tricky – the alert will see the head of a sleeping Buddha in the brickwork. 😳.

I liked the next one – at Angkor Thom, The Bayon, where all heads came the right way up and all different…..

Finally, we visited Ta Prohm where the ruins were literally riddled with roots making some amazing pictures but by this time I think we were all drooping. The heat was nearing 40 degrees and I was running out of charge – both in device and in person!

I have to report that we were pretty pooped when we got back to the hotel and only managed an hotel sandwich for supper and then bed.

What a day!

Wednesday, 21st November, Siem Reap, Cambodia

It seems no time at all since I put down my pen equivalent following my Australian musings and here I am taking it up again to report on my delve into the delights of Cambodia and Laos.

My companion on this trip is my old friend and adventure sharing buddy Denise, Keith having decided that he could resist the attractions of steamy heat and temples. I have to report that Denise and I have ‘previous’ on this travelling business, having walked the three peaks in Yorkshire, clambered over several Brecon Beacons, journeyed through Holland and more recently wandered around Burma together In addition to having survived numerous commuting train journeys and a major company merger. With that behind us, how can this trip fail? Nevertheless it faced a very early hurdle as I had the start date wrong. For some reason I had it in my head that to start a trip in Cambodia on the 21st November I could leave Kent on the same day. Unfortunately not possible. I therefore have to very shamefully report to having let young Mickey Wightman down on our planned day out together and set out to travel on the 20th.

So here I am. After a ten hour journey to Bangkok and a 40 minute journey from there to Siem Reap and three breakfasts later I have arrived. I have to pause here to record another little nicety – the tartan food bag.

This is what Smile Airlines served our third breakfast in and insisted that we should keep it. Obviously the challenge of the holiday is going to be ‘How many uses can you find for your Smile bag?’ It is a worry!

After this excitement, and once we had obtained our Visa to enter the country, it was fairly plain sailing to collect our bags and find the man to take us to the hotel. Our first impression of Cambodia was extremely favourable. Leaving the airport we were immediately driving along a broad ‘boulevard’, with three distinct and separate lanes of traffic. An interesting phenomenon- the middle lane in which we were travelling had traffic in both directions. To our right, over a grass verge was another lane of traffic travelling in the same direction as us. To our left, across another verge was traffic coming towards us. Interesting….

Anyway, leaving the traffic behind (as it were) and back to those first impressions – it is a clean, green and pleasant land. The vegetation I would describe as lush and all along the road initially there were the ubiquitous umbrella covered Asian stalls selling everything from clothes to miniature temples. Eventually these ceased and we were treated to an array of up market hotels. These of course were not for us. We skimmed pass them (the driver did not seem to get out of second gear – do you think we are going to see Cambodia in second?) and turned off into a narrower much busier road, and then again into an even narrower and even more busy sort of lane. Here we turned into our hotel, nestled under large green leafed vegetation, no doubt harbouring a million mosquitoes. Those that aren’t hovering around the poolside that is. We are home for the next three days. Surrounded by local colour.

We were very prettily greeted by the young reception staff. We learnt several things. First that our rooms would not be available for several hours (it was by now 9.30 am), that there were to be 6 people on our trip and that one of them was an Australian girl called Sarah from Melbourne.

Feeling pretty tired, after a drink in the Hotel breakfast room,we adjourned to a shady sun lounger where we snoozed away a few hours. This sleep update continued once our room was ready…..!

and we slept very happily until about 4.00 pm when we rallied to prepare for the inevitable first night get together. Here we met our compatriots – Gabriella from Switzerland, Emma from London, Bruce from New Zealand, the previously mentioned Sarah from Melbourne and our guide, Kom. Definitely a small but beautifully formed group.

Chats over and having found that it is a 4.45 start tomorrow to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat, we set off for supper. We have arrived during the festival of Moon and Water so the place was heaving. There seems to be no rules of the road and motorbikes, scooters, push bikes and tuk tuks vied with cars for space, all at the expense of the pedestrian. On reaching the river we crossed to the Amazon Cafe where we had an excellent meal.

All life was around us. Sprays of water could be seen being shot into the air a little distance away. The lights of the night market could be seen going into the middle distance. The jewelled colours of lights on the water. It was a kaleidoscope of colour and noise. However, we decided that that early start was our priority and we turned away from the hubbub and back to the hotel. To bed.

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