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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Monday, 15th October (my birthday eve!)

It was a very dark and dismal day from a number of perspectives – not least because our wonderful holiday is drawing to a close. Nevertheless we had committed to meet up with David Halliday for a last walk around Long Reef and despite the inclement weather we headed off down the hill to meet him.

David walks his dog (Bella, fondly known as Bella the Otter for her love of water). It was not long after we met up that it started to rain. And rain. And rain.

It was a very different scene to those we had experienced before on this route…

The sea churned below us. We were soaked. Despite the rain we descended to the beach for Bella to have her swim, undeterred by the elements.

The seaweed was wonderful!

Having completed the walk we adjourned to a local cafe for a drink and poached egg breakfast. We really enjoyed the opportunity to spend more quality time with David.

Back up the hill it was time to pack. This turned up into a whole day affair! (Our luggage has expanded considerably!

Everything tucked away we had supper with the girls and Justine. All was going swimmingly until, having adjourned to prepare for school tomorrow, Mickey cut her finger and we hastily said goodbye before she was hurried off to hospital….

We could not believe it! Happily, although we had adjourned to bed in readiness for our early start, we received news that no stitches were needed. What a relief!

And so our third trip to Australia drew to rather dramatic end. What a trip it has been. What amazing things we have seen, experiences we have had and people we have met. We return home so much richer in experience, with so many wonderful memories and determined to return.

Sunday, 14th October

With apologies for the delayed post!

It was as a quiet start to the day.  By 9.00 am nothing stirred in Wightman Towers.  It was probably a fairly typical day after the day before or in Justine’s case, the day after the week before. However, by mid morning we were all assembled for the final brunch for this visit and our final planning meeting to establish how we were going to spend our day.

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After a bit of debate, it was agreed that we would all go to Lavender Bay, a harbourside suburb on the north shore of Sydney.  Lavender Bay is named after the Boatswain from the prison hulk ‘Phoenix’, which was moored there for many years.

We took two buses and started our perambulation of the area at the Kirribilli Market. This was a real melange of stalls selling everything from jewellery to drums made into coffee tables, from vintage clothing to fancy fondants.  I think we all survived the experience without a purchase beyond some rehydration, something of a requirement all round……  Moving on, we walked towards the water. The houses were incredible, many of them quite old (in Australian terms!).  As we neared the harbour we found we were getting a very different view of the bridge and the city as we glanced it, initially through the buildings, and eventually when a wide vista emerged.

We continued to wonder along the waterside.  We passed old moorings and buildings left over from English colonialism.

We passed the end of the bridge and watched the fishermen.  Eventually the bridge was behind us

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and we arrived at Luna Park, Sydney’s world famous amusement park built in the 1930’s   Since it was built, Luna Park has a bit of a chequeredhistory and been subject to several redevelopments, but in 2004 it reopened under new ownership and has been operating ever since.   Walking through the rather startling entrance, we bade farewell to the Wightmans who returned home to chores and school preparation and meandered on past the rather old fashioned stalls and slide shows

One of the things that I was keen to see was Wendy’s Secret Garden and soon after we passed out of the amusement park area we came across it as we mounted the steep steps to move away from the waterside.

The Secret Garden is a green oasis of lush foliage, native plants, fig trees and beautiful flowers.  We were lucky enough to see some of the flowers in bloom and everything looking very rich and flourishing.  Created by Wendy Whiteley, initially in memory of her ex husband artist Brett Whiteley who died in 1992 and whose ashes are buried in the garden, the garden has been maintained and beautified by her and volunteers since then.  Sadly their daughter’s ashes are also there now, but it is not a place of sadness, but more of a place to enjoy and take in the views.

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It was eventually time to turn for home. Our time in Australia fast coming to an end.

For our ‘last supper’ with the family we were all off to the local Indian restaurant. It is becoming something of a tradition for our ‘last night’, which we are bringing forward 24 hours as we are being collected at 3.00 am on Tuesday morning…..

The restaurant is just around the corner, so we did not have far to go.  We had a jolly night of chat and reminiscence.  It has been an amazing trip and choosing the top 5 moments is nigh on impossible.

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…and so to bed for our penultimate sleep.  Tony is out tomorrow night, so we said our goodbyes to him – he has been such a wonderful host and definitely one of our favourites!

Saturday, 13th October

After what seems like months of planning and anticipation, the day of my Australian ‘gathering’ dawned. Despite poor weather nearly all week it was dry and although a bit cloudy, clement enough for us to take Helen for the Saturday constitutional around Long Reef.

Smartly at 7.40, the boxers and the walkers skidded down the hill. The ground was too waterlogged for the cricket fraternity, but some golfers were out. The tide being out we were able to get right out to the spit.

Back at the house, there was rather a poor attendance at breakfast with only Tony and I taking the opportunity to sit out in the sun and eat our eggs.

Eventually we were there. After a tense hour sitting on the runway, Justine had arrived (she was exhausted poor soul, but looked as stunning as ever!) and Helen and I had a last view of the ocean before setting off.

It was then a bus into town and a bit of fancy footwork to reach what used to be called Darling Harbour and now is known by its Aboriginal name of Barangaroo, where Cirrus, the restaurant, is situated.

It was then not long before everyone arrived – Sarah, Wendy, Peter and Helen from the Silk Road trip, Aileen and Mick from our Ocean Pacific trip last year, Justine and Tony, now more family than friends and David and Lesley, two friends of Justine and Tony’s who we have become friendly with by association. A merry dozen, seen to get more merry as time progressed. The meal was amazing and served as sharing plates. It was beautifully served.

I provide the menu and foodie pictures for those interested readers……

After some initial angst from Keith and I as to whether everyone was going to get enough to eat, we soon settled down to a delicious meal, with much laughter up and down the table. Everyone seemed to be getting on. The wines were great and a good time was had by all. There were lovely cards and presents and then the girls arrived with the cake. It was scrummy lemon drizzle with lots of candles (😳).

To date I cannot track down a photograph……..

Late into the afternoon people started to depart. (One of my favourite photos of the event! Even if I do like a dwarf!)

So sad to say our goodbyes to so many lovely friends, not knowing when we may return but I am convinced return we will. We have that last quarter to cover…….

A hard core then adjourned to a bar. I have to admitted to being a little ‘squiffy’ at the end of all this.

Friday, 12th October

It was a quiet day. A sort of calm before the storm of birthday activity.

I have still not settled on an outfit for my French birthday gathering, so I decided to leave Keith at Wightman Towers and launch into the Australian shopping scene on my own. I did buy another dress but Mr Gregory is still not convinced…… back to the drawing board…… one could say brinkmanship of the first order. 😳

I returned to Collaroy in time to welcome Mickey home. I was so pleased to learn that the young cadets had been moved from their tents on their camping week as they had been flooded. Apparently the whole experience had not been as bad as anticipated, often the way in my experience, which was good. We left her to some ‘me’ time and we both headed into town to collect Helen who was flying in from Alice Springs for my party. She is staying with us at the Wightman’s for the night. We took the opportunity to make some final purchases before meeting up at the bus station. It is always a delight to see Helen. We certainly haven’t seen enough of her this visit, but hope to get a sighting in Europe next year.

It was the rush hour, so the bus was busy, but we were soon home and had the bubbles opened. Tony joined us for dinner which was Mickey’s favourite to celebrate her home coming. Justine is to fly in from Singapore tomorrow.

Wednesday, 10th October

It was a really dark, wid and woolly day. Keith and I were going to the theatre to see The Accidental Death of an Anarchist at one of the small theatres at the Opera House. Unfortunately this outing had coincided with a busy day at the office for Tony, so the plan was to take Coco with us to the City and then she would spend the afternoon with him in the office.

It was a tortuous trip into town. A combination of the weather and the traffic made the already long journey even longer. The bus was slow and steamy and the roof started to leak!

Just as we got off the bus the heavens opened even further and we were caught in an absolute deluge. Poor Coco had chosen probably the least good umbrella that she could find, with the result that by the time we got to the Opera House bar where we were to hand over our charge, she looked nearly drowned. We were running late, but poor Tony was even later and we made the play with just a few minutes to spare.

It was very funny and very clever. The writer is a favourite of Keith’s but this version of this particular farce had the added dimension of an all female cast. It was excellent but I was really glad it was not an audience participation affair as we had the middle seats in the front row!!

The play was on at an odd time. It started at 1.00 pm so it was finished by 4.00.

We returned to Collaroy and before long it was time to set out again. We were having dinner with my old friend Paul, who sadly will not be able to join the ‘gathering’ on Saturday.

It was not raining when we left,but by the time we got back to the City it had started again. Paul has just bought an apartment out at Central, so it was a train and a walk.

We arrived at his very upmarket absolutely dripping, but he was very gracious (ignoring the deluge of water that arrived with us) and showed around his new establishment and new dog and pointed out the penthouse outside area which I am sure will provide a wonderful outside room when not covered in cloud.

We went put to dinner at a really good Vietnamese restaurant called Mekong located at the end of a road known as Spice Alley.

Here hungry diners chose their food from an array of Asian food booths from which delicious smells and colourful dishes were being dispensed.

The Mekong served really good food. Regrettably Paul’s partner was tied up for the evening with a senior politician of some sort, but he managed to join us just as we were leaving, so we were able to say ‘hello’ before we disappeared into the night to make our return journey to the northern beaches. As was late we caught a bus to the bottom of the hill and considering too late to ask Tony to come and get us, clambered (in my case rather slowly) up the hill.

Tuesday, 9th October

It was to be a Coco day. There had been quite a debate to try to identify an activity that would be energetic enough to meet Coco’s needs and also be within our gift of ability! We plumped for 10 pin bowling. As it had rained the day before, the birthday party Coco had been to had also abandoned to bowling, thus providing her with a day’s practice. We were doomed to fail – and so it proved.

We set out from the house and walked down the hill to catch a bus to Dee Why (another suburb of Sydney) where we were reliably informed by our young charge that the bowling alley could be found. On the way we watched someone being rescued by a helicopter in the bay below us. We were a long way away but, from where we were, it looked as if the person being rescued fell off the winch a couple of times before he managed to get into the air. All very hazardous!

Leaving this drama behind, we headed to our bus. Unfortunately when we arrived at the bowling alley, we found we had a bit of a wait for a free ‘lane’. Please note my familiarity with bowling parlance, despite not having been for at least 20 years!!

Undeterred, we set off to head to Coco’s favourite Burrito establishment, handily not far away. This was near Dee Why Beach (I cant help but feel that ‘Dee Why’ is a bit unlikely as a name…). We passed a very energetic Bush Turkey on the way

He was still being energetic on the way back!

The sun was out so we strolled along the promenade, watching a grandmother chase two totally naked three’ish year olds who thought it great fun that they could not be caught! It was hilarious, but Coco thought it a little unbecoming!

Our next sighting was a film crew making a film in the swimming pool immediately adjacent to the sea. It was all very interesting, but not evident what the film was about. We dallied for as long as we could and inspected the canteen van and green room, but by now Coco was keen for her burrito, so the moment could not be deferred any longer. The Burrito Cafe it was. In fairness we had a good lunch and Coco ate a huge burrito, so all was good.

Back at the bowling alley, after a short wait, we started our game(s). Unfortunately lane 17’s workings weren’t up to the task and we had several holdups, before being moved to another lane. Rather inevitably, Coco won three out of the four games! However, we had all had a good day.

It was home to make fish and chips for supper. We are still trying to make an inroad into Tony’s fish mountain!