About a week ago, I found myself sitting on a lawn chair in the middle of a big white van, rocking from side to side between the clothes closet and kitchen counter. Our friend Arne was in control, speeding down the bumpy Cambodian highway, and I realised something. We have significantly relaxed since the beginning of our trip. There’s no way I would have done all that back in Belgium.
Luke got the front seat, because he’s huge and didn’t really fit in the back. So, for the week that Arne and Jenny ferried us around Cambodia, Luke sat up front while Jenny reclined on the bed and I braced myself on the spare tire whenever we braked hard.
We did have a delightful time with our favourite German pair. It just so happened that they were going the same way as us after Sihanoukville, or they were nice enough to pretend that they were going the same way so that they could save us the trauma of a bus. We travelled to 6 different towns, including a few nights in Battambang for New Years. We then made our own way to Siem Reap, Arne and Jenny having crossed over the border to Thailand.
Of course, we went to Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat, or, more accurately, the Temples of Angkor. You may have seen pictures of Angkor Wat itself, a big temple majestic in it’s faded grandeur. The Angkorian civilisation was powerful for 600 years, though, and there are temples all over the place, many within easy walking distance. This has the potential for some very weary travelers.
We took our sightseeing slowly, though, breaking it into three shorter part-day chunks beginning at reasonable times of day. Gone are the days of seeing a castle in Belgium, visiting the entire nation of Luxembourg, and sleeping in France, all in one day (real thing). These days, we need to sleep in and download some podcasts and have a multi-hour leisurely breakfast before doing anything.
They are amazing, though, the temples. Some are really tall and majestic, and some have been just swallowed by the jungle. Some have hardly any tourists, like Ta Nei. We sat in the ruins of that temple for 30 minutes, not another soul around, listening to the jungle. Of course, Angkor Wat itself was a circus, but at least we didn’t feel like we were going to be literally crushed to death by the crowds. Thank you, Great Wall at Badaling, for forever lowering our touristing standards.
I also got a nice souvenir in Siem Reap: viral conjunctivitis! I know this because we visited the one ophthalmologist in the city (because my eyeball hurt). He was quite good, except that he scared the bejeez out of me by showing me pictures of horrendous cloudy eyeballs and permanently scarred corneas, before telling me this was no big deal and I caught it well in time. Thanks for the drama, doc.
The waiting room was great fun, though. Isn’t that a lovely unexpected thing for us Westerners? I had a 6:30 appointment, only to show up and find twenty men, women, and children in the doctor’s living room. We wouldn’t have even known it was the place, if not for an excited schoolboy who said yes when we timidly said “eye doctor??” to the general room. A nice tuk tuk driver came to sit next to me and explained the system: there’s no numbers, you just know who came before you. Indeed, when a person left the doctor’s consulting room, everyone in the room pointed to the next person. While we waited, we watched Thai soap operas, people chatted across the room, the school kids practiced English, and everyone passed around the babies. One time a grandma just walked a baby around the room, stopping at each person (including me) for praise and cooing noises.
Our friendly tuk tuk driver friend was very excited to show me photos of his adorable young baby, of whom he was ridiculously proud. Unfortunately, he also decided to tell me that him and his wife tried to get pregnant for ten years. So, he did the obvious thing, and he told her last year that if she didn’t get pregnant he would leave her. Suddenly, miraculous pregnancy! Risky move in a country with no paternity tests, mr. Tuk tuk friend.
No scooters for us (warning: scary and upsetting)
It’s common practice for tourists to get scooters or motorcycles and ride them around Southeast Asia. We, however, will not be doing this.
The first bad accident we saw had no fatalities, but was scary enough. Two scooters ran into each other in front of the van as we rode with Arne and Jenny. Both fell over in seemingly slow motion – and one was carrying a mother, father, and toddler (this is really, really common here). The toddler rolled towards the centre of the road. I’ve never, in my life, seen a person move so fast as that mother retrieving that baby. It was truly superhuman, as I guess I had heard can happen in these types of situations. Thank God, the baby was crying and looked unhurt. The adults immediately stood up, too, a good sign. The car ahead of us swerved and missed the toddler. Arne slowed and easily avoided the situation. We do not care to delve into the what ifs.
I didn’t see anything in the second accident. I just saw all the bus passengers looking out the windows, and I saw the mangled metal remains of a scooter. Luke, though, accidentally looked at the photos that the saffron-clad monk in the seat next to us was taking on his iPad. So he saw the corpse second hand.
I may sit in lawn chairs in vans, but I firmly draw the line at riding scooters in Southeast Asia.
New Year’s Eve
As mentioned, we spent New Year’s Eve in the old colonial town of Battambang in western Cambodia. We didn’t know if New Years was a thing in Cambodia, so we were excited to see a big street fair set up by the muddy river near our hotel, smack in the centre of town. However, our Western expectations did not meet reality in the following ways:
The restaurants all closed around 9, so we were forced to eat sketchy looking street food at plastic tables surrounded by trash heaps. I had blood soup. I didn’t know it was blood soup until Jenny said, “the blood is good, no?” Arne and Jenny later got violently ill. We ate the same things, so we’re pretty sure the reason they got sick is that they had been boasting that they hadn’t got sick in the trip.
There was a huge stage set up with enormous speakers and maybe 1,000 people in the crowd. However, the two acts we saw were a young man who sounded like he was doing karaoke (I think he was a Justin Bieber impersonator), and a Cambodian rapper, who’s songs everyone seemed to sing along to.
Everyone went home at 12:10. No more partying. Our hotel room had a balcony from which we watched hundreds of people retrieve their motorcycles and go home. The street was silent by 12:30.
Also, good news: Luke doesn’t have rabies yet! Or at least no symptoms. A dog bit him about two weeks ago, but it’s cool. The owner, an Italian woman (the owner of our local pizza place on Otres Beach), produced the dog’s recent rabies vaccination certificate. Google assures us that in that case we don’t need to get Luke any treatment. The dog bit him because Luke stepped on his foot for about 20 seconds, saying, “What’s that yelping noise? What am I standing on? Hey, something keeps biting me!” This is real and happened.
We’ve just arrived in Vietnam, but more on that later. There might only be a few blog posts left in us, yet…
On the road with Arne and Jenny
On the road
French architecture in Kampot
This is how they do weddings in Cambodia. They erect tents on the side, or in the middle, of a busy street. They then blare music all day long, long before the guests arrive.
There is an enormous tribute to the durian fruit in Kampot. Tastes like heaven, smells like hell, my Dad taught me. They actually explicitly ban the consumption of durian fruits on busses due to their stench.
Gardeners, check this out! Cambodian gardeners often graft together multiple colours of bougainvillea to get one multi-coloured bush. So pretty!
Getting into the big white van in Kampot.
At the famous Kep Crab Market. They catch crabs, and then sell them, and cook them fresh for you if you want.
This is them bringing in fresh crab.
This is a very, very pissed crab. He’s a grumpy little bugger, though I suppose I would be in his situation, as well.
And this is Arne with a cat.
This is a mound of dried, salted mini shrimp. Luke bought some but we ênded up feeding it to cats.
This is a tribute to crab.
On the road
We stopped to see our French friends (from China) in Kep. Louison (artist, pictured on the left) had received makeup for Christmas and practiced her craft on Luke’s face.
We went to a pepper farm! That’s pepper plants, behind us. They are actually vines that grow on poles. Pepper is a super big deal in the Kampot area.
And here we are, striking a pose with some baby pepper plants! Baby pepper plants live in the shade.
The town of Kampong Chhnang (not a typo). It’s a fishing port on Tonle Sap Lake.
Bamboo ready to be used in floating houses
More fishing industry.
A holiday message.
Another wedding, this one in Kampong Chhnang
We got a nice guesthouse in Kampong Chhnang, and Arne got a nice parking place inside of it!
This kitty spent some time batting at, catching, and eating my hair.
Now on to Battambang, in the West of Cambodia. This is the famous bamboo train, which was built after the devastating Khmer Rouge rule, to cope with lacklustre infrastructure. The idea is that only one track is needed – the bamboo carts are light enough that they can be simply picked up and taken off their axels to clear the track for an oncoming train.
Jenny taking pictures of an instense hacky-sacker by the river in Battambang.
Said hacky-sacker. He’s ân artiste.
Arne is happy!
Here is a military officer taking pictures of the fireworks to be set off that evening.
These are the biggest fireworks that we (meaning Arne, Jenny,and Luke, not me) could find.
Much of our new years eve was spent this way.
And this way.
It’s not a celebration without sparklers! Here are all those scooters that got ridden home early.
Justin Bieber impersonator.
Lots of balloons
Floating Village on Tonle Sap Lake
Jenny and Luke negotiated with these ladies to take us on their little boats to see the floating village on Tonle Sap lake, which it turns out they actually live in (the floating village, not the little boats).
It was a windy day, and we got sprayed by a lot of water.
On the way to the village, along the shores of the Lake, which is actually a big wide portion of the Tonle Sap River, which connects to the Mekong.
The kids were all super excited and shouted hellos to us.
Everything happens in this village that would happen in a village on land. There are even grocery boats that go around to the houses selling veggies and snacks.
Here’s a school!
Many houses had satellite dishes.
Most of the folks who live in this vllage are ethnically Vietnamese.
Arne and Jenny relaxing
This looks pretty darn comfy, actually. PS, if you’re wondering about pooping – there are “toilets”, or corrogated iron stalls that hang of the sides of houses and dump directly into the river.
This little guy felt strongly about our presence. All the little dogs yapped at us like crazy. But none had the cahones to swim over and bite us.
Angkor, Day 1: Around Angkor Thom, and Angkor Wat itself
The first temple we saw: Bayon
There are heaps of enormous faces on this temple. Apparently they are portraits of the Bodhisatva of compassion, but they happened to look a lot like the king who built the temple.
Beautiful carvings in Bayon.
Being mean to war elephants in Bayon. The Elephant Conservation Center would not approve.
Luke getting his Indiana Jones on.
These are Apsaras – heavenly nymphs.
Another view of Bayon. You can just make out the faces.
The next temple:Baphuon
The forest around Baphuon
Carvings in Baphuon
Looking down from Baphuon. By the way, this one is super interesting because it was actually taken apart and then put back – by memory and guessing, block by block. Historians had taken it apart (don’t ask me why), and carefully documented where each individual piece went. Then, the friggin Khmer Rouge took over and destroyed all the notes. So the historians put it back together, without the instructions. So, next time, be grateful for that IKEA instruction booklet.
Can you spot the Buddha? He’s laying down, and he’s enormous.
Somewhere within Angkor Thom, the walled sacred city that we were exploring this day,
There is so much of Angkor that is not preserved or restored – this beautiful, ancient carved stone was just hanging out in the middle of a pathway.
Sitting in front of Phimeanakas, our next temple.
A gate within Angkor Thom
Preah Palilay, a small and quiet temple
Taking a break in the heat of the day
I think this is one of the Preah Pithu temples, which no one goes to.
The Suor Prat tamples – there are 10, and apparently they used to have people walk on tightropes between them, for the amusement of the king.
An army of tuktuks goes towards Terrace of the Elephants. Tuktuks are the main mode of transportation around the enormous Angkor complex.
And, here it is: Angkor Wat itself
Pause for monkey with balls in golden hour
And another view of Angkor Wat
It was really hot. But I had to wear long sleeves for modesty.
Angkor Wat in sunset.
Angkor, Day 2: Preah Khan, Ta Keo, Ta Nei
The amazing temple of Preah Khan – it’s one of the less visited temples, but it is amazing.
An incredible carcing in Preah Khan
I think the plan is to eventually restore temples like this, but for now, it’s very romantic
Luke tries to get into a crypt that is just too small! (The next in our photoseries: “Luke posing next to small doors”)
I really like that they took the time to sculpt the anus of the lion. It’s even a kind of decorative anus.
Preah Khan, mini extra temple.
We bought some paintings from this fellow. Too many, actually. So much for travelling light while backpacking.
Ta Keo, a small and less visited temple
Looking up in Ta Keo.
Luke looks over the edge on Ta Keo
These stairs were as scary as they look. Total safety hazard. I had to silently apologize to my safety-conscious Australian passport as I descended them.
Ta Nei – probably our favorite temple. Only saw a couple of people here.
We sat in Ta Nei for a while. I’d like to say we just contemplated the weight of history, which we did, but we also checked our emails.
Taking a tuktuk home
Angkor, Day 3: Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm, one of the three most famous of the Angkorian temples.
It is pretty cool due to the amazing tree roots, but as you saw from the photos of Day 2, there are other temples that have this too.
Each stone was individually labeled. We wonder if they have just put this back together from rubble.
I think this is a super trippy picture. It’s like a glitch in the matrix or a view into a portal to another reality.