It's only been two months!

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March 8th 2013
Published: March 8th 2013
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I've now officially been away for 2 months. As always, time is astounding me as it definitely feels longer! We've had a pretty busy few weeks in Cambodia, I think I've done more sight-seeing here than I had in the whole two months! We stayed in Stung Treng for the first night then left the next day for Ban Lung in the northeast. We were taken directly to a guest house which is usually expensive and we move on but this one was really nice and reasonable! We checked in and went down to the cafe which was too relaxing! I spent all afternoon there, watching 'The Royal Tenenbaums' and talking to other travellers. The next day we hired motorbikes again, maybe mopeds - I don't know the difference! We went to a nearby lake which was created by a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago. It was huge and heaven after the heat of Cambodia. We then visited some waterfalls and went around the town. It was really beautiful, a bit quiet but relaxing. After that, we took a bus south to Kratie and spent a couple of days there in a guesthouse overlooking the Mekong River. Again we hired bikes but this time just one between two. I didn't mind being passenger as you have more time to look around but it doesn't feel quite so safe! We visited some rapids where we slept in hammocks in bamboo huts. Again pretty relaxing!

We moved on the next day to Phnom Penh, the capital. I instantly liked it, there was a nice atmosphere and it was busy like a capital should be, unlike Vientiane in Laos but didn't feel dirty and overun with tourists like Bangkok. We were taken to a guesthouse and sitting outside was Ana, a Spanish girl we'd met on the slow boat to Laos and again in Don Det. That's the thing with travelling, you're always bumping into people and it makes the world feel very small! We checked in and wandered the city for the afternoon, it was just nice to be somewhere busy, a good change from the quiet first few days. There were really nice big open areas where Cambodian people would be participating in dance work-outs or exercising in outdoor gyms! It was fun just to people watch! We met Ana and her friend Babel for drinks that night and another Spanish guy called Cristian. The five of us hired a tuktuk the next day to take us to Choeung Ek, the Killing Fields. We were given audio guides and wandered around the site, hearing all about Cambodia's hocking history. There's not much to see as the people tore down many of the buildings out of rage and grief but certain things still remain like the killing tree which the Khmer Rouge would smash babies skulls against rather than waste money on bullets. It was horrific but important to understand Cambodia. It's incredible how they've recovered from such recent devastation. We also went to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum or S21 prison as it was known. We saw where the people were tortured and held and I met a survivor of the prison who told me how they murdered his wife. It was terrible but again, important to understand. I think that's why I liked Phnom Penh so much, because it was a ghost town during the Khmer Rouge's reign and now it's a thriving capital. We also went to the Russian Market, named that for all of the Russian tourists visiting in the 80s. It was a sprawling indoor market and was nice to wander round, interacting and bargaining with the people after such a heavy morning. We then wandered the city and stumbled upon the late Cambodian King's tomb which was incredibly beautiful. We also saw the Independence Monument which was designed to look like a lotus flower. The next morning we visited the Royal Palace which was very impressive but there wasn't a lot of information. Still, it was beautiful.

We left that afternoon and took a bus to Siem Reap. We arrived to a very touristy town! Big neon signs everywhere pointing to things like 'Pub Street'. We found a guesthouse and wandered to the night market. The next day we were up early, hiring bicycles and setting off for the Temples of Angkor. We got three day passes and spent the first day at some of the quieter, smaller temples. It was really nice to build it up slowly as the temples got more impressive and the number of tourists steadily increased! The bicycles were a lovely way to explore as we rode shaded by trees, no traffic just beautiful landscapes BUT it was very hot and tiring! We also had a few mishaps: Beth got a flat tyre so had to take a tuktuk back. Ana lost the key to her lock, Babel lost the lock altogether! We cycled back in the early evening when everyone is heading back into Siem Reap and it was a little scary riding amongst tuktuks, motorbikes, cars and hundreds of buses and coaches! Somehow the system works though and you just keep riding while all other traffic avoids you! We opted for a tuktuk the next day and were up and out at 5:30am to see Angkor Wat at sunrise. I thought it was pretty beautiful and was content to just lie quietly and watch the day begin. There were a million tourists with cameras ready to capture the moment but they were behind us so didn't blemish my view. We went to Angkor Thom after, the ancient capital of the Angkor era. It was massive and we saw some very impressive sites but the sheer number of other tourists was ridiculous. We went to some further out temples too, making good use of our tuktuk but were knackered by early afternoon so retreated back to Siem Reap and went in search of a pool! We tried the neon pub street that night which was a little disappointing. It had looked so busy, you expect a good party but it was nothing special sadly. The next day we were back on bicycles and explored the last of the main temples. There were more but after three days, it's safe to say we were massively templed-out! We saw some amazing sites though, the architecture and stone carvings were incredible and the way the jungle has grown on and around some of the temples is beautiful!

We left Siem Reap the next day and headed to Battambang. We were off sight-seeing again that afternoon and went to the bamboo train. Basically, it's a platform of bamboo, sat on top of some wheels with a motor. So simple but it works! There's one old rickety railway line and so you head off in one direction, if another train is coming towards you, you have to stop, dismantle your train and let them pass, then reassemble and continue! It's all fun and games! Then we got to a quiet village, stopped there where we were greeted by children who made us grass bracelets and rings and wanted to speak English with us. Then went back. Quite a simple experience but I really liked it! Then we went to visit the Killing Cave. First we were taken up about 400 steps by our guide Cola. I say guide, she was a surly teenager who stormed off and we followed. She told us nothing of the hill, the temples, the cave; we ended up listening to other guides! It was quite annoying because we've never paid for a guide before and this one was useless. Ana got annoyed and asked her why she wasn't explaining anything to us but that was just met with an angry glare and she stormed off again! Worst guide ever! So we reached the top of some hill, saw some temples and sunset then went to the Killing Cave where some helpful boy told me over 10,000 people were killed there and were thrown from great heights down into the cave by the Khmer Rouge. It was pretty eerie, there was a smoke that wouldn't settle and a memorial with skulls. After we met our tuktuk driver Han outside who took us to watch a million bats all fly out of a cave! A bat cave, as it were! Sounds a bit random but it was really impressive watching this seemingly neverending trail of bats come streaming out of the cave and flying off in one long line into the distance. Han, himself was a very interesting man. He told us his parents had been killed in the cave and he'd been made to work 12 hour days in the rice fields, surviving on one mouthful of porridge a day while having no idea where his family was. He was so open with his story, it was shocking to hear a first hand account. It's so recent and 1 in 4 people were killed so many people have their own stories to tell.

We said goodbye to Cristian in Battambang and took a bus the next morning to Pursat. We stopped there just for the morning to visit the nearby floating village of Kompong Luong. That was remarkable; houses, shops, police stations, a church - all floating! The people get around in boats and tiny children are hopping from boat to boat with such ease. We went around a Vietnamese village and were informed that these were Vietnamese refugees who had been unable to get any land in Cambodia so had taken to the river instead. We got back on the bus that afternoon and travelled first to Phnom Penh, waited there an hour then took a bus to Sihanoukville - to the beach! Sight-seeing over, we headed to the beach to relax for the last few days (alright, weeks!) of our visa. We were stuck in the traffic in Phnom Penh for a few hours so didn't arrive in Sihanoukville til midnight. Found the cheapest bungalow we could and collapsed into bed. We said goodbye to Ana and Babel the next morning who moved on as they're in more of a rush to get to Vietnam. We headed to Serendipity beach, found a couple of loungers and didn't move for the rest of the day! It was heaven, so hot, the sea was lush and we were brought fruit shakes. Sadly we both got a little sunburnt, apparently factor 30 wasn't strong enough for my fair skin! So the next day was spent on the beach again, but this time in the shade! Serendipity beach is packed full of women and girls trying to sell you bracelets and massages, pedicures, manicures. Usually I'd say no but you're lying there, not going anywhere and they're persistant! I ended up getting a pedicure, some sort of threading hair removal thing (not as painless as they claim!), 3 bracelets and an anklet! I didn't want anything! Still it was kind of nice to be pampered! One afternoon I set off in search of the post office. I followed the map in my guidebook exactly, unfortunately it a terribly inaccurate map and I ended up walking too far! I had to be directed by locals back in the right direction although it was touch-and-go as they didn't understand "post office" and my map was completely wrong so they laughed at me. Eventually after a frustrating hour of walking in the blazing sun, I found the post office. It was closed. Livid! I refused to try again the next day so the post will have to wait until I next stumble upon an open office! The nightlife on Serendipity beach was very English. You could be anywhere in the world. Just English reps handing out flyers and inviting you to things like beach olympics and booze cruises! Felt very different to the Cambodia we've seen in the smaller towns and we moved to Otres beach instead. Much quieter, beautiful long stretch of white sand and we sleep in a guesthouse on the beach! We went on a boat trip to some nearby islands to do some snorkelling, fishing and more lazing on the beach! I'm feeling very lazy, we don't usually stay in the same place for so long but it's nice to have some beach time and do nothing after so much travelling and sight-seeing. We haven't seen a proper beach since Thailand (Don Det didn't really count as it was on the Mekong River rather than the sea!) and it's nice to not be in any hurry. I am now wearing factor 50 and am slowly working on my tan, even though the Cambodian women regularly comment on my colour - "such white skin, so pale, very fair, not brown like me" ... uhhhh excuse me, this is the most tanned I've been in years!! Looks like I'll just have to spend a few more days on the beach ...

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8th March 2013

Hello Cecilia
Lovely to read your updated blog again. I am very envious of you , hearing about all the wonderful places your are seeing.It is just a once in a lifetime experience & you are so fortunate to be able to do it. Won't recognise you when I see you again , what with a deep tan & even longer hair ! All well here in Scotland.Una texts & calls occasionally. Very happy in her work ,accomodation & with her flat mates .Mgt Dunn has returned to work following her maternity leave. Rory will be a year old in a few weeks time , have been invited to the party.Connie & Geraldine may come over to her for Easter.Not sure what Caitlin is doing. Was away skiing recently. No sign of Spring here yet! Weather has been very dry & sunny for the last few weeks , but feeling cold. Ann x
16th March 2013

Cecilia's journey of discovery
Just love receiving your details of your trip and knowing you are doing so well except for the passport!!!! I too would have paniced big time but all ended happily. I am learning so much history from you keep me posted its a lovely highlight in the midst of this long and coldwinter. Love Mrs K

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