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Asia » Cambodia » North » Siem Reap
December 4th 2009
Published: February 4th 2010
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I have travelled to and through many boarders in my life, so far, but none have been quite as original as my border crossing between Chau Doc and Phnom Penh. We parted the fishing village in Chau Doc on board a slow boat where we parked off, took in the sights along the river banks while filling out customs forms, exchanged currency and getting in some last minute reading about the country we were bound for. I could truthfully have admitted, at that point, that I knew little to nothing about Cambodia. True to our guides word three hours went by in a flash and we stopped at an aluminum floating building where we were suddenly ushered off the boat, relived of our passports, $22 and our paper work and were then herded into the floating boarder post cafeteria where we proceeded to do not much other that chill out and chat.

Not only is it cool to check off floating boarder post from your list of to do’s but so is the experience of being a passive organiser of a tourist visa, what a pleasure. All we had to do was sit and chill out while our guide
Chau Doc To Phnom Penh. Chau Doc To Phnom Penh. Chau Doc To Phnom Penh.

Sights from the slow boat
missioned with the visa red tape on our behalf! With the personal mission an hour and a half past quickly. With our Cambodian visas freshly pasted into our passports providing us the go ahead for us to board, yet another colourful slow boat, we began our remaining three hour trip onwards in the direction of Phnom Penh. In my opinion we couldn’t have picked a better mode of transport between the two countries, if you have to choose bus or boat for the journey the best tip I can give you is opt for the boat and the slow boat at that, it’s a magnificent and really fun way to travel and one heck of a lot more comfie oh and incidentally there is a loo with a view.

When travelling aboard the slow boat you spend the better part of the afternoon on the roof chilling out, catching a couple of rays and enjoying watching the goings on of the Cambodian people who live on the banks of the Mekong. Don’t be surprised if you spot occasional bouts of semi nudity because the Mekong doubles as a bath as well as a washing machine come to think
Chau Doc To Phnom Penh. Chau Doc To Phnom Penh. Chau Doc To Phnom Penh.

Sights from the slow boat
of it, it’s also a drinking fountain and swimming pool as well as a water highway all in one chocolate brown water body. I have to admit that I felt a little like I was part of a royal precession entering the Kingdom of Wonder while perched on top of the roof of our colourful, wooden boat with all the cursory waving following by bouts of excited laughter from the locals all the way along!

Once our time on the boat was up we took off our Royal attitudes and packed ourselves into a mini bus that would ferry us up to Phnom Penh. Thankfully the passenger to seat ratio in this particular mini bus was correct but boy oh boy was it warm and let’s face it the mini buses roadworthiness was touch and go so chances of air conditioning were out of the question. Admittedly we figured, since we only had about an hour to go till we would reach Phnom Penh, that it really wasn’t that big of a deal that the bus was a baking 30 degrees. What we didn’t realise was that one and a half hours would turn into just over three hours
Chau Doc To Phnom Penh. Chau Doc To Phnom Penh. Chau Doc To Phnom Penh.

Kenny and I bid Vietnam farewell
with the better half of the journey stuck in standstill traffic! Seriously long travel time, all this aside the mini bus trip was really insightful.

I hadn’t anticipated such a difference in scenery between Vietnam and Cambodia but the countries are truthfully worlds apart and magically so! Cambodia is not the Kingdom of Wonder for nothing, on arrival and in fact even while cruising along the banks of the Mekong you are struck by the smiles and friendliness of the Cambodian people, they truthfully have the most captivating smiles and everyone, big and small old and young, poor and rich has their own business to attend to each one trying, eagerly and without complaint to recover from the sheer trauma and suffering that was bestowed upon them not many years prior! Any country men that can exude such happiness and pride after such suffering are models to us all and make you even more appreciative of the opportunity to exploring their land!

Thankfully the road between the river and Phnom Penh was quite good, not nearly as potholed and hazardous or with as many motor bikes as the Vietnamese roads we had driven along and with the slowly
Chau Doc To Phnom Penh. Chau Doc To Phnom Penh. Chau Doc To Phnom Penh.

A loo with a view, and I kid you not
setting sun on our left and the goings on of the people along the riverside on the right the arduous ride in the heat proved somehow enjoyable. Watching locals bath their prize, white, Brahman type cattle also provides some amusement for the long journey!

Unlikely for us the long journey meant we arrived in Phnom Penh to stand still traffic stations which is never fun but with a little patience the lot of us were safely deposited somewhere in an inconvenient part of town at a motel, knowing all too well that the spot they were dropping us off at was unlikely to be in the best or most convenient spot, so a crew of four of us rather headed out in search of the backpackers district at the lakeside. Once we had managed to negotiate a tuk-tuk to the lakeside district and then pried our way through the hordes of Tuk-tuk driver/ marijuana pimps we began our inspection of a good few of the seedy motels that line the water and we finally settled on the Grand View Hotel the provided a clean enough bag storage spot for the next two nights (let’s face it the cheap sauna
Chau Doc To Phnom Penh. Chau Doc To Phnom Penh. Chau Doc To Phnom Penh.

The French girls settling in for 40 winks
box was only good for storing bags and catching a couple of hours sleep, you definitely didn’t want to be spending more time than necessary in that room).

We wasted no time in before hitting the seedy yet rather interesting main lakeside drag where an absolutely scrumptious Khmer curry was the order of the day and once our stomachs were full we figured it would be rude not to sample a very cheap screw driver bucket at one of the lakeside jetty type restaurant-bar.

Aside from the hordes of over keen tuk-tuk drivers and marijuana-Opium pimps Phnom Penh is the place that, through the killing fields and the S21 museum will make you really take stock of your own situation and will forever make you hold the people of Cambodia in very very high regard!

A trip to the War museum in Saigon leaves you depressed and absolutely drained for the duration of the day but a trip to the killing fields and the S21 museum, while pretty hectic, leaves you in such awe of the Cambodian people and it makes you really appreciate the way in which they have managed to rebuild their national pride after
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You know you are safe when there is a woman at the wheel
such genocide and in fact what they have achieved in such a short space of time is something that is incomprehensible and is very humbling for those of us very fortunate western onlookers. I had been told on many occasions how distressing a trip to the killing fields is but for me the trip was unbelievably insightful and while the killing fields and S21 left me in sheer shock and awe of the way in which the Cambodians have memorialised both sites really giving one a sense of how, aside from everything, the hope was never beaten out of the suffering Khmer people under the dictatorship of the Khamer Rouge.

After almost a full day of enlightenment and humbling, Kenny and I took to the streets for a quick trip to the Russian market to see what all the fuss was about and once we realised that there was not much more than knock off Louis Vuitton and Polo golf shirts to be purchased we headed back to the lakeside to meet up with the boys for some sun downers, curry and banta before returning to our room to pack up and get ready for a day’s bus trip to Siem Reap planned for the following day.

Phnom Penh is a very intriguing city but admittedly not a place you need to spend days on end so we were quite ready to bid the city Farwell and head to the heart of Cambodia’s historic and culture capitol, Siem Reap.

I think I mention this in every insert but it’s so true, travelling is great because not only do you get to meet such wonderful people and learn about so many different cultures but you also have a firsthand travel agent at every turn and at every turn you find yourself with suggestions for places to go, places to stay and the best modes of transport along with the best prices. We had been chatting to a couple of British guys in Mui Ne who had suggested we stay at the Golden Mango in Siem Reap so we did the more logical thing for a change and phoned ahead of time to book ourselves into the Golden Mango figuring we would just sort ourselves out with transportation between the bus stop and the hotel on arrival. To our surprise the hotel had sent a driver to fetch us
Chau Doc To Phnom Penh. Chau Doc To Phnom Penh. Chau Doc To Phnom Penh.

Sights from the slow boat
and transfer us to the most stunning hotel ever. We couldn’t believe our luck and in fact Kenny and I did a little excited dance once the porters had deposited us in our room and left closing the door behind him because we were paying $5 each to stay in the most spectacular hotel that made the Grand View in Phnom Penh seem like a slum!
Once we had gotten over our excitement about the hotel we indulged in the awesome, properly working, warm shower and we then headed out to peruse the night market.

It would seem that the Golden Mango was just the start of the Magic that marks Siam Reap, it is truthfully a magical place, I fell in love with the ‘city’ from the moment we headed out along highway 6! 8pm on the back of a tuk tuk bound for town and the national road 6 Phsar Leu Thom Thmei (upper large market just outside of Siem Reap proper) provides a great introduction to the local goings on and illustrates how local ways still function amid the increasing tourist hustle bustle and development!

The town of Siam Reap itself is really lovely but
Chau Doc To Phnom Penh. Chau Doc To Phnom Penh. Chau Doc To Phnom Penh.

Sights from the slow boat
I think this quaintness is only really experienced if you stay just outside of town and then drive in along the water’s edge under the dim glow of the elaborate lantern style street lights. Once in town you can’t help but notice the stunning restaurant fronts that exude an equally lovely atmosphere. Long, our trusty tuk tuk driver, dropped us just off Pub Street and we meandered along to Angkor Night market where we were immediately accosted by the need to buy everything we layed our eyes on in the market. The curious are really fabulous and we were so glad that we had held out on our present shopping till this point.

Somehow managing to keep our wise shopping facilities intact we departed Angkor night market having only window shopped in preparation for a spending spree the following night. We did go on a feeding frenzy after all the visual exercise undertaken at the market however! The Khamer Kitchen in the Ally road is 100% worth a visit and with buy one get one free cocktails and limitless bowls of disgustingly delicious, freshly popped popcorn there is just no way you can pass up a visit!

I
Chau Doc To Phnom Penh. Chau Doc To Phnom Penh. Chau Doc To Phnom Penh.

Sights from the slow boat, some locals cooling off in the Mekong
think we quite literally rolled out of the Khamer kitchen and somehow managed to load ourselves onto the back of a Tuk tuk which successful took us on a scenic journey before depositing us safely back at the golden mango so that we could get 4hrs of sleep in before the illusive hour of dawn reared its head and signalled wake up time for us.

It takes a lot to get me out of bed at that kind of ridiculous hour but there is just no way you can pass up an opportunity to see the 100’s of tourists all watching the sun rise behind Angkor Wat. The sunrise itself is really lovely but watching one tourist come over to another tourist and ask him to move himself and his camera because he was obscuring his perfect shot was even more fascinating!

Once the warm orange sun had unwrapped the Rorschach inkblot shaped Wot from its resting place against the dapple blue sky we bid the tourists farewell and headed to the cloisters of the temple to see what the true fuss was about and I have to say the temple of Angkor Wot is really amazing. I
Chau Doc To Phnom Penh. Chau Doc To Phnom Penh. Chau Doc To Phnom Penh.

Sights from the slow boat
am always astounded at the beauty and exactness of such ancient architecture and I explored in owe of the way the ancients managed to construct such a mammoth Wot without the types of tools we know today and even more amazing are the relief carvings worked into the slabs, how the stone masons of the time managed to perfect that is still beyond me.

from Angkor Wot we moved on to Angkor Thom Wot via the giant headed arch way that marks the South gate of the Angkor Thom complex. Angkor Thom was possibly my most favourite with its myriad of prying eyes set in the giant faces that watch your every move. Admittedly Ken and I thought it was just rude to only passively take in the architecture so we began a foolish but fun photo shoot but while attempting to smooch one of the big stone guys I did find myself being reprimanded by a feisty tour guide, I suspect he was just jealous that he wasn’t going to be adding such a photographic shot to his repertoire.

Once our gay exploration of Angkor Thom was done we headed off to Bayon but before exploring we
Chau Doc To Phnom Penh. Chau Doc To Phnom Penh. Chau Doc To Phnom Penh.

Ken and I catching some rays
sat down to some banana crumpets which, unbeknown to us came accompanied not by a side order of cream but rather a crew of highly amusing curio selling kids. Never before I have been welcomes by the line “You know what the capital of Madagascar is, if you not know and I tell you, you by from me....” a rather influential line since I would be lying if the fairly unpronounsable Madagascan capital popped into my head immediately. Thankfully I managed to escape without parting with any Riels but still ignorant where the capitol city’s name was concerned (thankfully apple apps came to the rescue a couple of hours later, gotta love the fact finder :-)).

With stomachs full we headed out again on Longs motorised bike and headed to the temple we had been most eager to explore, Indianan Jones’s lair Ta Prohm. The temple was adorned in slightly less foliage than we had anticipated but its weathered charisma had us exploring for hours and once enough snaps were captured we decided that three temples was quite enough to take in for one morning and we headed back out through victory gate for an afternoon of relaxation before
Chau Doc To Phnom Penh. Chau Doc To Phnom Penh. Chau Doc To Phnom Penh.

Sights from the slow boat
our returning in the late afternoon to catch the sun set!

What I really love about Asia is the ease in which you can get around and finding a bike to rent is so easy. Since we felt as though we had been doing nothing but eating without exercising for 4 weeks we opted for peddle power transport and headed into town to try and find the illusive Aqua swimming pool we had read about in the lonely planet. Riding, on a bicycle, down national road 6 is an experience not to be missed in fact the best description would be a firsthand experience of calculated chaos. Somehow the lettuce sellers, corn on the cob vendors, second hand clothes merchant, bicycle riders, hyundai car owners, bus drivers and tuk tuk operators and the like manage to cohabit the dirty tarred environment of national road 6 in an unfathomable manner without so much as a hint of aggravation or incidence. I absolutely enjoyed every minute of our 2km educational ride into town along the vibrant main drag. After much riding around and almost giving up we did eventually discover the Aqua pool spot yonda side of the bus depot
Chau Doc To Phnom Penh. Chau Doc To Phnom Penh. Chau Doc To Phnom Penh.

Tilling the fields
but it was well worth it to parked off and catch up on a couple of z’s for a good part of the afternoon before heading back to meet Long for our 4:30pm pick up so that we could make it back to the Angkor Wot temple in time for sun set.

Naturally being tourists ourselves we did what all tourists do and we ask Long, our very obliging tour guide, to take us to the least touristy spot he knew that would still provide us with a decent view of the sun set over the Angkor complex but not before letting us scramble up the steep hill to Phnom Bakheng to check out the favoured viewing point for sun set. So far in our trip we’d seen many a stunning sun set but so far the most marked sun set was that a top Sam’s mountain in Cha Doc so admittedly it was going to take a lot to beat that sun set but we still hurtled along and finally made it to Pre Rup temple where we climbed the crumbling steps, manoeuvred our way among the plenty of other tourists and awaited the suns evening ritual. Admittedly
Chau Doc To Phnom Penh. Chau Doc To Phnom Penh. Chau Doc To Phnom Penh.

Sights from the slow boat
the sunset was pretty but in truth we were starting to regret our decision not to just have watched the sunset reflect off Sra Srang Lake rather than watching the sun slide behind a horizon of trees. Just as we were discussing the places that would have been better vantage points for sunset there was suddenly a flurry of chatter and the straining of eyes because none of us could quite believe what was coming into view. I don’t know if any description can quite do the event justice because what took place before our eyes was one of the most remarkable things I have yet witnessed. Be it by fluke or by some uncanny calculation I don’t know but somehow the silhouette of Angkor Wot could be seen fitting 100% to scale within the half crescent sun just as it hit the horizon. It was as if someone had created a giant orange snow globe with a silhouetted Angkor Wot encased inside it, it was truthfully astounding and absolutely beautiful all at the same time and I count myself very fortunate to have witnessed such a marvel.

After an astonishing sunset we got Long to ferry us back to the Golden Mango so that we could catch a shower and we then headed back into town to get our fill or more yummy Khamer food followed by a last turn in at the market to buy a couple more gifts and it was then that time again when you unfortunately have to bid farewell to yet another Charismatic town.

Another early wake up awaited us the following morning since we very cleverly booked to fly out of Siem Reap at 8:30am, what we were thinking I have no idea. As 6:30 rolled round we waved goodbye to the luxurious mango, drifted down the dawn enveloped national road 6 and after some usual airport hacking and frustration we finally boarded the aeroplane bound for Kuala Lumpur, half wishing that we could have spent that much longer in Cambodia because it truthfully is the Kingdome of wonder in fact perhaps their tourism catch phrase should be the Kingdom of Captivation. I absolutely loved my stay in Cambodia and I am already planning my next trip, I hope you will plan a trip too so that you can experience the magic for yourself!




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Lakeside lights


4th February 2010

you made me remember
I was there last October+November. It was amazing, unforgettable and surprising. I visited the ODA, it´s an orphanage in Siem Reap in the area of Angkor Wat. It´s a place to visit and help the people who have commited to help those lovely children. I agree, it´s the land of smiles and unique atmosphere.
4th February 2010

A interesting blog & great photos!
5th February 2010

Congratulations on your high number of viewings! :) If you have time, tell us the secret of your success on http://www.travelblog.org/Topics/21363-4.html

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