A Travellerspoint blog

Cambodia

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Cambodia

Siem Reap (11th February - 13th February)

So, since we have had a lack of computer access and have gotten a little behind with the blog thought I would make try to cram all of our time in Cambodia into one post.

Had an epic journey into Cambodia from Pak Chong in Thailand – 3 buses to the border, then 3 hours at the border queuing for passport control each side and to get a Cambodian visa (which of course required us to pay unofficial ‘admin’ charges), then another bus from the border to Siem Reap which took 4.5 hours instead of the 3 it was meant to, and finally a tuk tuk from the bus station to our hostel. But we made it, after 16 hours! We both felt pretty rough by the end of this, but it was considerably worse for Duncan who had a dodgy stomach for the whole trip.

We spent a couple of days in Siem Reap. The first day we did very little, Duncan was still feeling ill and I had managed to mess up my feet with blisters and an allergic reaction to plasters and couldn’t walk very well. So we wandered around the town, found a pharmacy and bought me a different pair of flipflops. We decided to just get a one day pass to the temples, neither of us is that into temples that we felt the need to spend 3 days and a lot more money on them. However, the one day pass did include evening entry to see the sun set from the temples. So in the evening we jumped in our tuk tuk (fantastic way to travel!) and headed out to the temples. The ‘spot’ to watch the sun go down was from the top of one of the temples behind Angkor Wat, but neither of us was particularly impressed as the view was away from Angkor Wat and over some countryside and we had to queue for ages to get up there and stand with a million people all trying to get the perfect picture. I guess we can’t complain too much as we were also doing the same thing, but we hoped the other temples the next day would be a bit quieter.

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Up early (5am) for our day at temples, starting with sunrise at Angkor Wat. It was very impressive, took hundreds of photos! Although this was probably as busy as the previous night we had seat with a good view and the area was a lot larger so seemed far more peaceful. We wandered around the Wat and went up to the top level to check out the views. I still think it is incredible that these fantastic temples were built and then forgotten about for so long. Next up on our itinerary was Angkor Thom, the walled city just North of Angkor Wat. There was another temple here called the Bayon, which although not as large as Angkor Wat was covered in huge carved stone heads which made it equally impressive.

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I didn’t think the other areas of Angkor Thom were as interesting, partly as by this time we had already spent 5 hours walking around ruins and it had to be pretty amazing to beat Angkor Wat and the Bayon. We jumped in our tuk tuk for the final stop on our tour, Ta Phrom. We were both kind of tired and had seen a lot of ruins by this point, so weren’t expecting to spend long here…but it turned out to be my favourite temple of the tour. This one was particularly special as it had not been renovated and was still overgrown by huge trees and bushes (Tomb Raider was filmed here). This made it feel far more authentic, and I also now have a hundred photos of tree roots climbing over temple ruins! Last stop on our tour was another smaller temple, before we headed back home after what felt like a long day…it was only 1pm by this point! Spent the rest of the day napping and wandering round the market in town.

We weren't too impressed with Siem Reap - it is a town built up because it is near the ruins and there wasn't much else to see.

The next day we jumped on the bus to Phnom Pehn. Unfortunately the bus broke down halfway, so we sat on the side of the road in small town for a while as our 6hr journey turned into 10hrs. We were starting to realise that travel in Cambodia would almost certainly take longer than advertised!

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Phnom Penh (14th February - 17th February)

We both really liked Phnom Pehn, it was a far smaller and more laid back city than any we have been to previously on our trip. We spent one day walking around the city centre, checked out the market, Wat Phnom, some monuments and the grand palace. Both were interesting, but after seeing the Wats and grand palace in Bangkok just a week before they fell a little short on the ornate decorations. The second day was far more sobering, a trip to the Killing Fields (Cheung Ek) outside Phnom Pehn and S21 the prison in Phnom Pehn used by the Khmer Rouge. Both were very interesting but very sad experiences. Particularly the Killing Fields which had a really good audio guide with narratives from the survivors and Khmer Rouge soldiers. Definitely a must see if you go to Phnom Pehn.

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We had some great and very cheap food in Phnom Pehn. We were staying a Khmer neighbourhood so decided to check out the local restaurants. These were kitchens with plastic chairs and tables spilling out onto the street, where we got hot pot one night and a grill the next with a pitcher of beer each night, all for under $5 between us, fantastic value for money. They didn’t speak much/any English in these places though, so we had to point at other peoples food and the adverts on the wall. After this they obviously didn’t trust us to cook our own food at the table so we had our own chef, a young Cambodian girl no older than 10, stood at our table grilling our food for us, great service!

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We both really enjoyed the bits of Cambodia we visited, although feel like we haven’t really seen much of this country. But we only had a limited amount of time and after our first experiences of public transport we realised that getting around in Cambodia was not a quick business, and it would take weeks rather than days to see the whole country. Instead we decided to move on to Vietnam and spend more of our time there as although it would have been nice to see other parts of Cambodia, they were not on our ‘must-see’ list of places.

Posted by duncan-alice 07:01 Archived in Cambodia Tagged reap siem phnom penh Comments (0)

Thailand - Part 1

sunny 35 °C

Sorry for the delay in our posts - internet wasn't free where we were staying in Thailand or Cambodia so now we are in Vietnam with free internet we will take advantage of it to update you all! See Alice's flickr for all her photos if you are interested.

Thailand

Bangkok (5th February - 9th February)

We arrived in Bangkok from Hong Kong. Apart from the heat (30++) the biggest thing we noticed was being around western backpackers! It was a bit of a mini culture shock! Our hostel was very near Khao San Road which is the party street in Bangkok. The Thai people were so friendly and as soon as we got to Bangkok city centre from the airport with an address in English which the driver couldn't read, a boy let us use wifi through his phone so we could get the Thai letters. We spent the afternoon looking for summer clothes which wasn't as successful a trip as we had hoped!

The next day we took a very long time going to the Vietnam embassy to arrange our visas. The bus took over an hour but it was an interesting experience crawling through the city and also watching and listening to the middle aged driver and conductor shout at each other from one end of the bus to the other - sure we were the butt of their jokes! We went for express one day visa service as it was so painful trying to get there in the morning. Bangkok has a sky train (metro on stilts) which is lovely and air conditioned but doesn't really cover much of the west of the city (where we were staying) and the metro wasn't near us either. On the way back, we waited and waited for the bus which when it did had the same driver and conductor as the morning. While we were waiting we jumped in a tuk tuk for not much more than a bus fare but the driver said to us as we pulled off he would make 1 stop (where he takes you to a friends shop and force you to buy something at an inflated price). We quickly jumped out and resisted his offer of a free ride for 2 stops but Alice was disappointed we didn't get our first tuk tuk experience.

On our third day we went to the Grand Palace with a Geordie guy we met at the hostel. The residence of the King, the buildings were amazing but the number of tourists and being almost fully covered in the heat didn't make it the most enjoyable experience. In the afternoon we went to see Wat Pho, a Buddhist temple with a very laid back Buddha (literally).

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Our last day in Bangkok saw us take advantage of our Grand Palace ticket to visit Vivanmek Palace (former royal palace only made of wood) and Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall (royal reception hall) which was a very elegant building full of objects to celebrate one anniversary or another of the royal family.

Bangkok was a buzzing city but we were a bit overwhelmed by the western commercial tourism (which we didn't appreciate the lack of in China).

Khao Yai National Park (10th February - 11th February)

To break up our journey to Cambodia we decided to travel 3 hours in that direction and stop at a national park. Getting from our hostel in Bangkok to the bus station was eventful. We took a taxi to the sky train station insisting on the meter but as we pulled off he suggested an inflated price which we turned down. He proceeded to drive round the block before going to the station which we both noticed so we gave him a little over half of what the meter said and ran! It was then (an unforeseen) 30 minute walk to the bus station from the Sky train stop which left us both dripping in sweat and Alice very very unhappy! Despite having a ticket for a bus at 11am we went to the platform at 1030 and were told to jump on the bus which left immediately leaving us both a bit nervous if we would end up where we wanted! We were picked up in the back of a pick up truck and driven to our guesthouse where we had some lunch before going out to see some local caves and bats. Our guide had an amazing ability to spot animals and as we drove to the caves he spotted a whipsnake which Alice was privileged (and brave) enough to hold. At the caves, which are used by monks at night to meditate, we saw hundreds of bats and a selection of creepy crawlies the guide found. On the way back, we stopped at a field where every night about 2m (yes, million) bats go in search of food. It was an amazing sight to see the animals fly out the cave - some unlucky ones were caught by waiting hawks!)

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The next day we went into the national park where we had to wear sexy leech socks inside our shoes / over our trousers. We began the morning by seeing some gibbons which we were able to get great photos of through the guides spotter scope. We also saw monkeys and a massive horn bill which was very exciting. In the afternoon we went to the waterfall which featured in the Beach film - unfortunately no swimming was allowed - and then went off in search of elephant and the elusive tiger but unfortunately spotted none.

Posted by duncan-alice 06:43 Archived in Thailand Tagged bangkok khao yai Comments (0)

Hong Kong

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Sunday 3rd February

We arrived in Hong Kong in the morning, both feeling tired and grumpy after an overnight bus from Yangshuo to Shenzhen. We then queued for hours to get through immigration, compounded by Chinese tourists going to Hong Kong to do shopping pre Chinese New Year. We took a couple of buses to our hostel and by this point it was lunchtime but our room wasn't ready so we went in search of some lunch, looking for a famous dim sum restaurant but turns out it had moved at the end of January - very frustrating! Post lunch, we went for a much needed nap but a rock band practicing above our room prevented Alice from getting much sleep. After said nap, we tried to find the new location of the dim sum restaurant which we successfully found but it wasn't going to open until a few days which was a bit frustrating. After me getting us lost - I thought I was following Alice, she thought I knew where I was going... We headed towards Kowloon where we admired the harbour views and stayed to watch the light and music show using the buildings on the harbour side.

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Monday 4th February

We started the day by walking towards the harbour where we decided to take a bus to Stanley, a small town on the south of Hong Kong island. It was cloudy so we hoped it would clear up by the afternoon when we would go up the Peak for views of the skyline. It took the best part of an hour to get to Stanley and it was a nice way to relax and see the city. There, we visited the market (which was disappointing and full of tour groups) and were interviewed by P6 kids who were doing a project on the town and practising their English.

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After countless interviews of the same questions we did our best to avoid more! We took an express bus back and then hunted for another branch Tim Ho Wan, the restaurant we had tried to find yesterday - its famous for being the cheapest Michelin star restaurant. The branch we chose was in the financial district which very much reminded me of the mall under Canary Wharf. I also finally understood what Alice meant when she said she felt underdressed / odd one out in Canary Wharf without a suit / shirt and tie! After lunch we took the bus up the Peak. The views were great but it was a shame it was still a bit cloudy. We walked down the very steep hill, next to the mid levels escalators (Alice was annoyed we weren't going up!). After visiting an old market, we took the ferry across the harbour and then walked home looking to find the cheapest restaurant we could as we were on a very tight budget by this point!

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Hong Kong didn't live up to our expectations. Although it was a nice city we expected it to be more exciting which I'm sure it could be if you were willing to spend $$$. The pace of the pedestrians and lack of space on the pavements also really frustrated me!

Posted by duncan-alice 22:26 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

Yangshuo

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Alice here again! Our final destination in China, the small town of Yangshuo.

Thursday 31st January

Made our first transport error this morning trying to get from our hostel in Guilin to Yangshuo, taking the right bus to the station, but in the wrong direction, oops! We realised our error when we got off after the 5 stops we had been told to take, to find ourselves on a random road with a few shops and not much else. Luckily it didn't take long for another bus to take us in the right direction, and we made it to Yangshuo by lunchtime.

Yangshuo is the smallest place we have visited, but is still a reasonable sized town. The scenery around this area in incredible, the town sits between the Li and Yulong River and is surrounded by huge Karst rock formations (so famous in China that a picture of the area is found on the back of 20 Yuan notes). Unforutnately we arrived on a grey, rainy day, which spoiled the views a little. We grabbed some lunch at a local cafe and did some washing at the hostel waiting for the rain to clear. When it finally stopped we went for a wander around town. Yangshuo seems like a nice place, with only one really touristy street, and great views across the Li River from the top end of town.

In the evening we had an unexpected bonus, two Chinese girls in the hostel were cooking dinner and invited us to join them. The food was amazing, the local 'beer fish' and some other homemade dishes - and they were offended when I offered to pay for some of the food and drinks!

Friday 1st February

Another big bike ride today. Bright and sunny day, and I have made it into shorts and t-shirt for the first time :)
The trip started up off along the road to see the famous 'Moon Hill', a rock formation with a large moon shaped hole in it. I took a couple of photos, but it wasn't as impressive as the guide books had made out. We then headed along a track up the side of the Yulong River towards 'Dragon Bridge', which was also meant to be a picturesque spot.
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Fantastic scenery along the river valley throughout the ride, although we were harassed constantly to take a Bamboo raft along the river rather than cycle. I was tempted when the flat paved track turned into a rocky and bumpy path, and I started getting grumpy as I was tired and hungry by this point. Eventually made it to Dragon Bridge though and a rest, lunch and cold beer sorted me out! Thankfully, after our long ride, the area around Dragon Bridge was beautiful and worth the cycle up there.
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We took a shorter route back along the opposite side of the river. Although again the track kept disintegrating into a bumpy, narrow mud path between villages, so it wasn't as easy as I had hoped and I was pretty exhausted by the time we made it back to the hostel.

After dinner at a local restaurant we finished the day watching 'Vertical Limit' at the hostel, sat on a comfy sofa with a beer...almost felt like home!

Saturday 2nd February

Today we took part in a Chinese cooking lesson...it was fantastic! We started off meeting our leader Kathy, a local restaurant chef, at the local market to go and buy the food for the three dishes our group had decided to make. It was really great to be shown round by someone who could tell us what all of the unusual vegetables and spices were, although I wasn't so keen when we were in the meat section and you could hear dogs yelping as they were killed - needless to say we were not cooking anything involving dog meat!
After picking up the ingredients we went back to the cooking school, above a restaurant in town, and set to work making three dishes, local beer fish (literally fish cooked in beer), sweet and sour pork and aubergine with garlic and chilli. It took a while to slice and prep all of the ingredients, but not long to cook in the huge woks. It was a lot of fun trying our hand at proper Chinese dishes from scratch, and we all felt proud eating the delicious food we had made ourselves. The aubergine was my fave whilst Dunc was a big fan of the sweet and sour pork. We all got recipe cards before we left so everyone back home can expect some good Chinese food from us when we get back, providing we can find the same ingredients back home of course.

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Spent the rest of the afternoon just chilling out in Yangshuo in the sunshine before taking the night bus to out of China to Hong Kong.

We have both had a brilliant time in China, although feels like we have only scratched the surface of this huge country, one month was definitely not enough!

Posted by duncan-alice 01:53 Archived in China Comments (0)

Dali / Kunming / Guilin

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Hello, Alice here..yes that's right, I have finally been allowed to contribute a blog entry! Don't expect too much detail though, but I have been instructed that a day by day account is necessary. So here goes....

Sunday 27th January

Got up early for a huge banana pancake cooked by 'Mama' before heading off to Dali on the bus. The journey was interesting, looking at the rural Yunnan landscape with wide valleys and hills and lots of people farming in the bright sunshine. Although the driving made us a little bit nervous, in China it seems that if you honk first it is ok to overtake anything whether or not there is oncoming traffic or a blind bend!!

Having arrived safely we spent the afternoon wandering around Dali. Very enjoyable in the sunshine and I was down to a mere 2 layers of clothing! The buildings were not quite as old and interesting as in Lijiang, but there were far fewer people, and it felt a little more authentic despite the large number of Western bars and cafes.

Monday 28th January

Had a fantastic day cycling from Dali to a town further up Lake Erhai called Shaping. After a slightly chilly start the rest of the day was the perfect temperature for cycling and bright and sunny. We set off on the 30km cycle along the road directly to Shaping, trying to get there in time for the local market. We only made a few stops on the way up, largely for me taking photos of Bai people working in the fields and fishing on the lake. It was amazing to see the farmers in their traditional clothes carrying huge loads of produce that I'm sure I couldn't even lift, despite being half their age! Also saw a man fishing with cormorants, which I thought was pretty cool. We made it to Shaping in time, and the market was brilliant! Full of locals doing their weekly shopping for everything from wicker baskets, clothes, groceries to new years decorations and live chickens. There was even a dentist at one stall...not sure I would have wanted to go to him for a check up in the middle of the market though!

We headed back towards Dali at a much slower pace, taking some backroads down to the lake shore through the Bai-style villages. These villages were great, although they were poor farming communities all of the buildings had beautiful paintings on the white washed walls. We found a relaxing spot for a break and some lunch we had bought from the market on the lake shore. My legs were pretty tired by this point, so it took us a while to cycle back to Dali along the backroads with a few breaks in the villages along the way.

Having finally made it back from out 70km cycle we recovered with food and a pint of 'real beer' from a Western bar in town. Duncan particularly enjoyed this, I think he has been missing proper drinks rather than the weak Chinese beer.

Tuesday 29th January

Spent a lazy morning in Dali, wandering around the town and market again, before taking the bus to Kunming. This journey took about 6 hours, and was not so enjoyable, it was hot and sticky on the bus and the seats were not the most comfortable. Got to Kunming quite late so just grabbed some food in a local restaurant before going to bed.

Wednesday 30th January

Got up early to look around Kunming as we only had the day here with our flight to Guillin in the evening. Glad we didn't leave oursleves more time in Kunming as it is not the most interesting city to visit as a tourist. We wandered around Green Park lake which was quite pretty, and watched the locals dancing and doing tai-chi in the park. The only other sight of interest was the bird and flower market (although mainly birds and small pets). We grabbed lunch before leaving Kunming for the airport, going to a restaurant for 'over the bridge noodles' a classic Kunming dish where you are given a selection of raw ingredients and noodles which you cook in hot broth to make the final dish. The food was good when we finally got it, but the restaurant was very confusing and it took us 10 minutes to work out how to order at one counter and get food at another before finding a seat as no-one spoke English and we are still struggling with any Chinese!

After the short flight we arrived Guilin in time for a walk around the town centre. It felt quite relaxed for such a large city, and had several lakes in the centre which looked pretty with various bridges and pagados lit up coloured lights, although Guilin seems to have very few actual tourist 'sights' to see.

So that brings us to today, when we have arrived in Yangshuo, but I will leave it up to Duncan to tell you about that part of our trip next time (after he has edited everything I have written first!).

Shaping Market
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Lake Erhai
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Bai Farmer
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Posted by duncan-alice 01:52 Archived in China Comments (2)

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