Kampot > Phnom Penh

We left Sihanoukville with only 8 in our group. This was strange for us as we had just come from a group of 27. Our new guide was called Tong. We took the short trip to Kampot and checked into our hotel. Ben and I were completed zonked. 20 days of doing nothing had ruined us.

We eventually got up and wondered around the town stopping at a bakery for a sandwich. I didn’t take many pictures there but here are some:

The fruit above in the middle of the roundabout is durian. Durian is probably the worst fruit I’ve ever tried but Asian people love it. Tong likened the taste to creamy garlic. But the smell is rotten. Many hotels will not let you have durian in the room as the smell is so bad. But I’m still going to bring home some durian sweets and biscuits for my parents (you’re welcome guys).

This morning we started our journey to our last stop in Cambodia – the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.

On our way there we made 2 stops. Choeung Ek and Tuol Sleng. These are also known as the killing field and S-21. These are both the most well known of the killing fields (there are over 300 in Cambodia) and the prisons. If you aren’t familiar with the Khmer Rouge regime, basically a man named Pol Pot and his political party wanted to make everyone equal, no rich and no poor. He did this by forcing everyone in the cities out of their homes and forcing people to become killed. Enemies of the Khmer Rouge were people who were intellectuals – scholars, doctors, teachers, monks etc. Even if you looked like an intellectual you would be killed. Examples of this include if you wore glasses and if you were white. They severed family connections and forced people to live with strangers.

No one knows the exact figure of how many people died but it is estimated over 1.5million which is more than a quarter of Cambodia’s population. They were not killed quickly by bullets either. Bullets were too expensive. Most were beaten to death by wooden clubs, axes, farming tools. Thrown into mass graves, women and children too. One of the quotes that has stuck with me is how they justified killing babies “to remove the grass you must remove the roots too”.

Choeung Ek (the killing field) is where people came to die. Music played to mask the screams and today there are mass graves everywhere. They have not recovered all the bodies as it is an impossible task, in the monsoon season it is common for more bones and clothes from the deceased to surface on the top.

We then drove a short distance to Tuol Sleng (S21). S21 was where many of the people executed at the killing field were tortured for information on intellectuals before they were killed. Today I not only saw the methods of torture, I also saw photos of these innocent people after they had been. It was truly horrific. My only thought for them was that at least once they were dead they were no longer suffering at the hands of their torturers. The regime even had painters (other prisoners) come in and paint these people as they were tortured.

Today, we met Chum Mey one of the 11 survivors of S21. He survived by becoming a painter.

Today was an emotional day for all, once we arrived at drop off point we said goodbye to all but 1 of our group who we will head to Vietnam with on Saturday. We arrived at our guesthouse and got ourselves a well deserved curry.

Koh Rong Samloem

On our way to Sihanoukville Dollar told us his family’s story during the Khmer Rouge. He was born after the regime ended but his family lost his grandparents, his aunt and uncle and his older brother and sister. His grandparents were tortured and had their fingernails pulled out, his aunt and uncle were tortured by water boarding and his older brother and sister were swung by their feet against a tree. Every family in Cambodia was affected by the regime and they all have their own stories.

3 days later in Sihanoukville we had said goodbye to Dollar and the rest of our group and hopped on a ferry to the Cambodian Island Koh Rong Samloem, our home for 15 nights. Longer than we had spent in both India and in Myanmar.

On arrival we jumped aboard our resorts boat and were taken to the resort where we were welcomed by Joyce and Vig and their entire team. The next 15 nights were spent relaxing and getting so sunburnt that I got blisters.

Our resort had 7 dogs which already makes it heaven for me but it truly was a paradise. Here are some photos from our time there:

Next: Kampot!

Battambang and Sihanoukville

From Siem Reap we met our new tour guide Dollar and got on our way to the home stay. We stopped off along the way to try some of the local delicacy – rat.

I decided I was never going to have the chance to try it again so I might as well. They only eat the rats which live on rice paddies where they only eat the rice. It tasted like juicy chicken and I would definitely try it again. Someone had the tail and said it was like crispy skin…

After this we stopped for some lunch and for people to swim if they wanted we ended up staying for 4 hours just hanging out on hammocks and chatting.

Guaranteed you can’t find me in this picture!

While we were here a group of 8 of us decided we wanted to go to see the Battambang bat caves so instead of going straight to the homestay we got 2 tuk tuks and off we went. Our tuk tuk was a ‘super’ tuk tuk which means it’s a car with a tuk tuk back and our driver called Small had named it Wendy. But not because the name of his girlfriend was called Wendy – he then proceeded to fly a paper (sort of) person round saying look my girlfriend can fly!

We drove for around 40 mins to the bat cave and then got the opportunity to see one of the killing caves from the Khmer Rouge. This was one of the most sobering experiences of my life and made a few members of the group cry. We were led down some steps to a cave with a hole in the roof here we were told people were thrown in here blindfolded. There were many skeletons and you could just feel like something awful had happened there. For me it was a similar feeling to being at ground zero in NYC.

After the sobering experience of the killing fields we went down to watch the bats for sunset. Every evening at the bat cave over 6 million bats leave at sunset, this takes over 40 minutes and is quiet a sight to see and a smell to smell.

After our drive back to the homestay, we arrived at our home for the night. Unlike the lao one we would all be sharing a room, all 27 of us. This wasn’t as bad as it seems. To start with we made our spring rolls which I’m now a total expert at (but don’t test me) and the home family fried them for us. We were then served with spring rolls, Khmer chicken curry and Fish amok. The curry and the spring rolls were insane but I stayed clear of the fish.

After dinner we sat round and chatted, the other table started a drinking game with a chicken head and cobra blood that I did not want to get involved in that shit.

Everyone slowly started heading to bed after that. To get up to our room you had to climb a rickety near vertical steps which wobbled and had giant human sized holes. One of our friends who hadn’t been drinking ended up flipping over from the top and falling 8ft on to the concrete floor below. He was ok but did need to go to hospital for scans and stitches but miraculously got on the bus next morning with a headache and dizziness!

Our bus journey the next day was a long one – 12 hours to Sihanoukville. This took longer when the bus broke down and we had to change buses!

When we finally arrived in Sihanoukville we were quite disappointed at the town. We were there for 3 nights and after one outting we knew there was nothing for us here. Sihanoukville has 152 casinos and not a lot else. Most people use it as a last stop before heading to the islands which is where we would be spending the next 15 nights.

Siem Reap

This is going to be a pretty long one…

Leaving Don Det we took the long boats back to the buses but this time I managed to stay dry! We boarded our buses and drove for 45 minutes to the Lao/Cambodia border. We said goodbye to our bus driver and went to get stamped out of Laos. Here we had to pay 10,000 kip (90p) to leave the country, this is an overtime fee for the police which you pay on weekends and after 4pm. We then had to walk for about 300m into Cambodia. It was probably the most surreal experience just walking through no mans land and into Cambodia.

Here we got our temperature taken which was mandatory to ensure we were fit and well to be in Cambodia. Once our temp was checked we got a yellow card to keep throughout Cambodia to prove we were fine when we arrived if we got ill. The next step was to get our Cambodian visas depending on the police officer giving you the visa you may have to pay extra as corruption is pretty high in Cambodia. After they’ve given you your visa you the join another queue to get your fingerprints and photo taken. At this point we saw a guy skip the queue, walk straight up to the counter with a wad of cash and just walked through… literally shit you see in movies. The whole process took us 2 hours and was probably the scariest visa experience I’ve had this trip.

Once we arrived we grabbed some food and boarded the next bus for our 7 hour journey to Siem Reap. I was a real moody cow on this bus journey because I couldn’t get comfortable so looking back I feel a bit sorry for everyone around me.

Arriving in Siem Reap we said goodbye to Pao our guide for the final time as we would get. Cambodian guide upon leaving Siem Reap. Our hotel in Siem Reap cost us £10 each for the 3 nights and was the most luxury we have had.

The next day started off unexpectedly. We had been told we would be picked up at 7.45am for our tour of the temples of Angkor. But at 7.30am we were walking down to grab breakfast from the bakery a guy on a tuk tuk was holding a piece of paper with our names on it so we got in. He took us to the tour company office after a 10 minute ride of complete confusion on our part. We sat for ages wondering what was happening before our tour guide finally appeared, we got in the bus and headed for the rest of our group who we knew from the bus.

Our guide was called Mari and he really liked to name drop. “I was a tour guide for the day to 007 my friend Roger Moore” or “when I was here with my friend blah blah the national geographic photographer we did this”. It was pretty funny and I’m pretty sure he was speaking shit 99% of the time. He also had a lot to say about Thai people and not in a good sense, it became pretty clear the Khmer people and the Thai’s don’t get along, he blamed Thailand for taking Khmer land saying they were thieves and cheats who had been forced out of Mongolia many years ago and the Khmer people had given them part of their land which they had expanded over the years. He told us anecdotes of when he was a teenager and would guard the temples of Angkor from looters from other countries and being given an AK-47 to do this.

He first took us to Ta Prohm “Tomb Raider temple” this is where Angelina Jolie’s tomb raider was filmed.

We went relatively early were still fighting with Chinese tour groups to get photos. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people in a temple, you were basically climbing over people to see things.

After we were done here we headed to Angkor Wat, Mari had the bus driver drop us across the river and we walked over the bridge. Here Mari told us to watch for crocodiles, when I asked if crocodiles were naturally from Cambodia he told us no people got them as pets and released the in the river, so now they have massive crocodiles in the rivers. He then told us he had got his mother in law 98 crocodiles for around her farm.

Luckily we didn’t see any crocodiles and walked over to Angkor Wat.

Throughout the tour in Angkor there would be random points where Mari would show us bullet marks from where they had decided to “shoot for fun”. To get to the top of Angkor Wat there was a queue to get up the new UNESCO built stairs. These stairs replaced vertical thin stairs which would have required going up on all fours for me, the wooden stairs were put in after a man died falling down the originals. You can still see the original stairs and there’s no chance in hell I would be going up them!

Mari sat for ages at this point telling us about his life, he has a green bean farm where he works for all of January and most of February. He raises cockerels for cock fighting (which we have since found out is completely illegal in Cambodia) he showed us his house which he built and pictures of his 2 daughters. He told us is views on Cambodian politics (they were not good).

As we were leaving Angkor Wat for lunch we decided to stop and take some pictures

Ben managed to capture the moment someone for the billionth time tried to walk through my photo!!

After lunch we went to Wat Thom but before this we got to try and move stones the way the builders of these temples would have

Clearly I was a natural?

My pictures for the last temples got less as the heat got to us all and we were exhausted so here’s a few

After our exhausting day our second day was spent in a bakery and at the cinema seeing Black Panther.

Next we headed to our Cambodian Homestay in Battambang!

Don Det (4000 Islands)

Our final full day in Laos began with us leaving Pakse and heading toward Don Det – an island in the Mekong River. We stopped at a place called Wat Phou first, this was a Hindu temple which had since been turned into a Buddhist temple, the most prominent religion in Laos by a mile. At this point I was still suffering from whatever bug I had picked up and decided I wouldn’t walk to the top as I was still pretty dizzy (and lazy).

After Wat Phou we hopped aboard the bus again and headed toward the 1st of our ferries for the day. This one the bus was able to board. These ferries were like none I had ever seen before, more like wooden rafts with 2 buses, 1 car and a whole bunch of people.

After this crossing we took the bus to Nakasong to catch our next ferry which truly gave me the fear. The next ferries were long narrow boats with tin roofs that wobbled when you got on them to the point of the roof falling on you. When 9 of us and our bags had got on we set off. There were 3 boats of us and the other 2 boat drivers took their boats and passengers to piers. Our driver decided he would try and beach us, it didn’t work and the boat went sideways, with us not able to get out onto dry land our driver announced right get out and we were forced to jump out the side of the boat into the sea… when it was my turn to get out one of the girls panicked and went to the other side with one leg out the boat tipped back and my other leg got stuck in the boat it’s safe to say my converse are ruined and our tour guide wasn’t happy with the boat driver…

Don Det seemed like a pretty special place. We signed up to see some rare Irrawaddy dolphins at sunset with 5 others from our group and it turned out to be pretty special. We saw the dolphins although I didn’t manage to get any pictures of them, so everyone will just need to believe me! To get to the dolphins however we had to take a tuk tuk and there are no tuk tuks on Don Det so we ordered a tuk tuk from Don Kon which is joined to Don Det via a bridge to collect us. The only road on Don Det is a single track road and is more like a land rover track in the hills back home. After our dolphin adventure we had our final meal with our friend Becky who was hopping off in Don Det to stay in a teepee for 4 nights. This was our last day in Laos which has definitely become one of my favourite countries now. The next day we crossed the border and journeyed to Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Pakse

I’ve really slacked on my blog for the past 2 weeks so I’m aiming to catch up this week! Leaving Xe Champone and the countryside we headed straight for Pakse, the biggest city in southern Laos. Once we were there we had some lunch and set off again for another hour up to the Bolaven Plataeu to see the Tad Gneuang Waterfall. This is also where the coffee plantations in Laos are as it rains often there unlike the rest of Laos in the dry season.

On our drive to the waterfall for some reason I decided to look up reviews of it on Google. All the reviews said “extremely steep stairs” or “treacherous stairs”. This made me worry a little because stairs in Asia tend to be pretty bad anyway (either stupidly high steps or stupidly steep) so when we got there and was faced with stairs that yes were pretty steep, they were also crazy uneven with fallen trees that you had to either climb over or under and railings that moved if you put too much weight on them. In the pictures below the tree with the red berries if a coffee tree with the red berries being coffee beans.

After getting to Pakse we checked into our hotel and then went to for Indian with our friend Becky. Our guide Pao told us hat Pakse was the place in Laos to get good Indian and it was pretty damn good.

The next day we headed to Don Det and our last stop in Laos!

Xe Champone

Before leaving Thakhek in the morning we got up early to go to the bakery for breakfast. I got a croissant that for once actually tasted like a croissant and Ben got real British chocolate digestives. I think my mouth died and went to heaven. I’m having a bit of a battle with dizziness and feeling really sick which I’m hoping is just down to my anti-malarials and today this was pretty bad.

We headed to Xe Champone in the countryside. On route we stopped at several places. First to buy bananas, this was important for later in the day. After this we stopped at the Buddhist library. This is a temple with the teachings of Buddha written on palm leaves from the 16th century. These are written in Bali sanscript and only one monk at the temple is able to read and write in this.

In this particular temple they were very strict. Normally as long as your knees and shoulders are covered and you take your shoes off woman are fine to enter. In this temple woman had to wear skirts even if wearing full length trousers as it is believed to be more respectable.

After viewing the teachings we had to walk round the hut 3 times for good luck. Sometimes I wonder if they make these things up so they can laugh at tourists but when you see locals doing it you know it’s not the case. The hut was high above the water on stilts, the floor physically bent when you walked on the floorboards and we had to go round 3 times!

After the Buddhist library we went to feed monkeys! I stayed well back on this one after the monkey in India growled at me and bared it’s teeth, I’m just a small bit terrified of them… In Lao monkeys are called Ling and in this particular area when you shout ling ling and you have bananas, monkeys will come running. Along with monkeys that want bananas there are cows that will chase you till you feed them a banana and goats.

After the monkeys we drove to our guesthouse and as it had the only restaurant for miles we ate lunch there before going to visit turtles – Asiatic Softshell turtles. Someone mentioned these are rare but this could be total bullsh*t. They were more like crocodiles than any turtle I had ever seen but we enjoyed feeding them sticky rice. The village surrounding the turtle lake have to feed the turtles otherwise the turtles come to the village to be fed and won’t leave until they do.

Our final stop on the days adventure was Old Wat Talaeo. This ruined temple had been bombed by the US and a new temple had been built at the other side of town. Ben and I took this as a good time to take album artwork style photos…

After this we headed back to the guesthouse, I skipped dinner and was in bed by 6 to try and make myself feel better. Only 2 days left in Laos now before going into Cambodia.

Tomorrow is Pakse, where I’m told the Indian food is great.