Archive for the ‘5. Cambodia’ Category

Cambodian food

As it is almost a tradition now, here is a post about the food in Cambodia: get ready to get hungry!

Our first introduction to Cambodian food was the food that we had in Kratie during the first two days. Among other things, we tried the Cambodian beer, Angkor, that was not that great compared with the national drink in the neighbour country (Beerlao); vegetable spring rolls and “pate” baguette (pate is some kind of flat pork sausage) with vegetables and ummm, shredded papaya in some kind of vinegar sauce, which they put in the sandwich too!

In Kompong Cham, we ate different coconut-based curries which were similar to the ones in Thailand. We are not sure how Cambodian this is, but it was nonetheless delicious!

Once in the capital, we started to get addicted to the refreshing Cambodian ice coffee with milk, which we could not stop drinking during the whole trip!

We also tried the “Phnom Penh” noodles from a street vendor. This type of noodles, as well as much of the Cambodian food, are prepared with a fish paste as a base, and then eaten with small shrimps, vegetables and chillies.

Phnom Pehn noodles

Kep, a town near Kampot, is famous for its crabs, which we saw in the crab market. Unfortunately, we did not have the chance to try them…maybe next time!

Crabs from the crab market in Kep

However, in Kampot we tried different local specialities such as fried fish, fried squid and fried duck, with rice and vegetables. We also got to try all the local spirits, such as rice wine, palm wine and ginger wine with coconut water.

In Siem Reap we tried the “Cambodian barbecue”, which is a “do-it-yourself” kind of meal. The waiter places a metal grill on your table, in which you can cook the fresh meat, seafood, vegetables and noodles which are provided. It is quite laborious, but also entertaining!

Enjoying Cambodian barbacue in Siem Reap

Finally, in a village around Siem Reap (where our tuk-tuk broke down and we had to wait for a while), we tried two different things which we really liked, despite not remembering their names: one was a meal prepared like the Cambodian noodles, that is, with shrimps, vegetables and chillies, but instead of using noodles, using a yellow flour paste cut into small pieces (see picture below).

Cambodian food that we tried in a small village

The other thing was something that the Cambodians eat as a snack or as a dessert, since it is sweet. It is a fried sweet, milky paste, which is eaten hot, so that the paste inside is still liquid. The taste is quite sweet, but the paste also has some vegetables such as spring onions. It sounds weird, but believe us, it was truly delicious!

Woman cooking Cambodian sweet pastries in a village

Advertisements

Siem Reap and the Angkor temples (11-14.01.12)

Our stay in Siem Reap did not have the best of the beginnings…we lost our beloved headlamps in the night bus from Sihanoukville (by the way, there are not such a thing as “sleeping buses” in Cambodia, so do not count on sleeping there even though they sell it like “sleeping bus”). Moreover, when we arrived to the guesthouse that we had pre-booked, we found out that it was claustrophobic and noisy…

Despite the disappointment and our tired bodies, we gathered some strength and went in search of a nicer place to spend the following 4 days. We saw three or more places around the city center, but they deserve the name of “dis-guesthouses” rather than something else…Anyway, almost in despair, while we walked a narrow alley, we luckily found the oasis of Arboretum guesthouse. The first thing that we saw was the relaxing garden, but immediately we were surprised by the classical music coming from the lobby! A little bit intimidated by such a nice setting (usually far away from our budget) we asked about the price. Indeed, it was a little more than what we had paid in most places in Cambodia, but when we met the friendly Irish owner, Ron, and when we saw the lovely room, we immediately decided to stay in Arboretum.

Our beautiful room in Arboretum guesthouse, Siem Reap

After having been in so many guesthouses in Asia, we were positively shock by the attention of Ron from the very beginning. He learnt our names from the start and took care of every detail to make our stay comfortable. We cannot recommend this place and its owner enough!

Once we had managed to rent a couple of bikes and to get a good book about the temples, we headed out of Siem Reap towards the complex of Angkor Wat, a few kilometres north of town.

Family at Angkor Wat temple

Most of the tourists visit Angkor by car or tuk-tuk, but we really liked coming to the temples by bicycle and cycling from temple to temple. The sunrise tours were not exactly easy, because we had to pedal in the darkness with speedy bus tours and tuk-tuks overtaking us. However, once inside the Angkor complex it is really rewarding to be able to visit at your own pace. If you have some experience handling a bike, we would advise you to do it this way at least once, just make yourself visible!!

Little cute child playing around Angkor complex

For those who do not know much about Angkor, it is a complex that contains countless temples, some of which are complexes in themselves. A stay of three days is recommended in order to have time to see all main temples and some of “secondary” ones as well. And of course, in order to have time to make a second visit to the main ones!! Just keep in mind that in any other country, many of the temples here would be a tourist highlight in themselves!

We got ourselves a three days ticket and pedalled our way to the complex. After all the effort finding a nice guest house we only had little more than a few hours in our first day inside the complex. So we decided to skip the big guys (Angkor Wat and Bayon) and visit Ta Prohm that first day.

If Angkor Wat is the most known name of this site, I am pretty sure that Ta Prohn is the image that many people have when they think about these Cambodian temples. The special feature of Ta Prohn is that it has been “taken” by the jungle, or more specifically, by hundreds of years old trees. In fact, most temples looked like this when they were found but this one is kept in these conditions as an example. The atmosphere of this temple is very special and its narrows and endless stone corridors are in contrast with the huge trees breaking down walls and pillars, which make the most iconic images of the temple. Needless to say that it is of obligatory visit while being in Angkor.

The romantic temple of Tha Phrom

Iván in Ta Phrom temple

After Ta Prohn and some lunch at a rather local restaurant (almost sharing the table with some chickens) our day in Angkor was almost done. We just had time to get a nice spot at Phnom Bakheng and enjoy the sunset. It is a nice hike up for about 20 minutes but if you plan to go there for sunset just make sure to start the climb with enough time since it gets really crowded. But still, it does for a reason, and sunset here is beautiful although the views over Angkor Wat were disappointing after reading the guide books. Anyways, it was a nice end to our first day in the complex together with the pleasant bike ride back to the hotel in the refreshing sunset breeze. Then, we enjoyed the super entertaining night live of Siem Reap. We found out that our hotel was located in the perfect place, just next to the night market and all the action of Pub street! Ron recommended us to eat in one of the places with tables on the street and it was so good that we ended up having dinner there every night! This night we tried the Cambodian barbecue, which is very fun to prepare.

Performance of Cambodian traditional dance in Siem Reap

In our second day we decided to go through a process of de-temple rehab before the last two days where we would go back to Angkor. So we visited some known floating villages nearby. It is an amazing experience to see how these people live an absolutely normal live on houses that are no more than floating huts. Even the dogs seem to like it!! It is difficult to avoid the touristy experience here, but still interesting if you want to see it.

Floating village near Siem Reap

We hired a tuk tuk during the whole day, a trip that included visiting other sites such as the silk factory. Again, it was rather interesting to see and learn about how the silk is produce throughout a complex and time demanding process. For a small contribution you will be kindly guided here and invited to the shop, which is only for much bigger budgets than ours.

Women working at silk factory near Siem Reap

As a very fun anecdote, the tuk tuk we had hired broke at some point in the middle of nowhere!! So we had to help the driver pushing it to where a mechanic could fix it. Pushing a tuk tuk through a rural town is a unique experience, since people just freak watching a foreigner working out when he would be supposed to go on it!! Well, and the joke gets epic proportions when all this happens right in front of a whole ongoing wedding…well, just gather some good humour and keep pushing!!

In our third day we woke up very early, and head out to the temple complex at around 5 a.m. Riding your bike in these conditions is very pleasant but it is extremely important to make yourself visible (and we just lost our head lamps!!) Sunrise at Angkor Wat is beautiful, no doubt why tourist crow in front of the water pound at around 5:30 a.m. After sunrise, most groups leave for breakfast.

Angkor Wat just before sunrise

This is actually a terrible mistake since those early hours in the morning are by far the best to visit the temples. It was then when we visited the Angkor Thom’s gate which looked stunning under the early morning light.

Impressive Angkor Thom Gate under beautiful early morning light

Afterwards we wandered around the Terrace of Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King with its hidden carved walls. This was an appetizer before one of the great highlights, Bayon. I consider it now my favourite amongst all temples in Angkor due to the mesmerizing effects of the carved faces and its outstanding magnificence.

The impressive faces of Bayon

Iván doing one of his jumps at Bayon

The 1.2 Km of stone bas-reliefs carved on its walls tell thousand of stories making necessary more than one visit due to its overwhelming list of things to see.

Panel in Bayon temple, ilustrating life in Cambodia

Detail showing Chinese warriors in one panel in Bayon temple

And as if it was not enough, we headed towards the mother of all temples, Angkor Wat. It is very difficult to get an exact approximation of the dimension of the temple, even from inside of its own complex. A first huge entrance only leads into an inner yard dominated by two symmetric libraries and the main building on the back. Here, everything is a matter of size and symmetry. Only when we get closer we start to perceive the magnitude of it, the height of the towers each of them of cathedral size.

And like Bayon, Angkor Wat counts on a collection of bas-reliefs of amazing beauty dealing with both historical and religious motives. 800 meters of bas-reliefs, mostly from the 12th century with such know scenes as the Churning of the Ocean of Milk telling histories is such a detail that you can employ hours there and still find something new.

Monks watching the panel "Churning of the Sea of Milk" in Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is the World’s largest religious building, so visiting this temple requires lots and lots of energy due to their extraordinary dimensions, so enjoying a refreshing beverage looking across the Angkor complex as the sun went down was just a perfect way to end an unforgettable day.

Iván enjoying the sunset at Angkor Wat

Our fourth day was the last in Siem Reap. Again, taking all our chances, we decided to enjoy the sunrise again there, this time at a much less populated Sra Srang. This time was easier to wake up since we hired a tuk tuk because in our planes was to visit Banteay Srei nearly 20 Km away from the complex. Sra Srang, rather than a temple is a terrace overlooking a large water pond with the sun rising on the back. The morning woke up quite cloudy so our hopes were not very high (at least the day before we had an amazing sunrise at Angkor Wat). However, cloudy skies also make beautiful sunrise and sunsets when the sun light reflects on the clouds resulting on a spectacle of epic dimensions.

Sunrise of the second day...not bad!

Quiet Sra Srang shortly after sunrise

After this we enjoyed the quite overlooked Banteay Kdei in the nice early morning hours. A great surprise and very advisable if you have a bit of extra time.

Sonsoles resting at Banteay Kdei

Then, we headed towards Banteay Srei considered to be in the same category as Angkor Wat or Bayon. We really wanted to visit this temple since it contains some of the most invaluable stone carvings in the world and very well preserved. But the smaller scale of the temple coupled to the hordes of Asian tourist groups made it an unpleasant experience. It is advisable to bring binoculars due to the detail of the carvings and the prohibition to get close to some of them. Anyways, the noisy and I-care-about-nothing-but-my-picture kind of tourist made it impossible to enjoy the visit even by their inappropriate behaviour (even in other orders of matter such as encouraging begging by literally giving kilos of candy to the children). Then, back to Angkor and visit Preah Khan after lunch, our last temple just before preparing for another sunset at Phnom Bakheng enjoying the feeling of job well done .

Sonsoles receiving a blessing from one nun in Angkor Preah

That same night we would take a bus that would take us to the Thai border early next morning leaving behind the unique experience of spending a few days at the lively city of Siem Reap.

Lost Paradise (with sandflies) (08-10.01.12)

After our great time in Kampot experiencing the “real” Cambodia, we headed to the southern center of the touristic action, Sihanoukville. At Olly’s place in Kampot, we had met a nice Dutch fellow traveller who told us about an incredible beautiful unspoiled beach in an island south from the coast. She said that even after exploring all Thailand she could say that this was the most beautiful beach she ever saw…so we decided to give it a try.

Koh-Rong is situated south from the Cambodian coast, a three hours trip by boat. Since Cambodia has not developed much yet their touristic attractions, except from Siem Reap due to obvious reasons, Koh-Rong is pretty much unspoiled. Travel agencies would arrange trips to the south-eastern part of the island, where you can find a number of nice guest houses and a beautiful beach. Here is where the only town in the island is located, so is it is still interesting to see how their daily live goes on as for decades ago.

Image
Fishing village in Koh-Rong south-eastern part

Image
Local boy having fun with the sand in the village

But the real treasure of the island is the southwest coast. Here, you can only get by means of a slow fishing boat specifically arranged by the almost only guest house in the area, Broken Heart Guest House. Our expectations were built very high and even more after meeting a Russian couple that was sharing with us the boat. It was the second time for him at the island and he could not wait to come back!!

After nearly 3 hours of bouncy travelling we got a first glance of the island. The town appears on the horizon easily noticeable thanks to the typical smoke columns coming out from the houses. Here, only the regularly scheduled boat would stop. We would continue along the coast to the other side of the island, and after a long turn around it with absolutely no sign of human presence, we came face to face with the most perfect white sand beach we had ever seen!!! It stretched 7 km along a coat only inhabited by palm trees and thousand of the cuties sand crabs!!! The sand was so white and the water so shallow that the sea glowed on a perfect emerald green.

Image
Julia and Alexander, the Russian couple who shared the paradise experience with us

Image

Paradise beach at Koh-Rong

The boat could not get too close to the shore so the staff of the guest house (few spacious bungalows perched on a hill over one of the beach ends) came to pick us up on some sort of big bucket!!! It ras so fun!!! I could not wait to try the water so I just jump in. Just imagine your perfect beach, well, I am sure you have now in mind something that looks pretty close to how this beach looked like.

Image
We loved the sand crabs at Koh-Rong beach!!

We got a simple but big bungalow overlooking the sea. The bungalow was only accessed by a footpath surrounded by the tropical jungle, which was really cool, but also full of all kind forest creatures!

Image
Our bungalow in Koh-Rong (the wide angle makes it seem much bigger than what it was!!)

The staff of our guesthouse (as we said, the only one in this part of the island) will definitely not win any sympathy context and the food was just ok and overpriced (so bring drinks and snacks to the island!!), but the restaurant and the bar were nice places to relax and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. Besides, we had a lot of fun with the Russian couple who came with us in the boat, our “naked-neighbours” as we called each other because we all liked to enjoy the beach naked in this paradise (and we could, since we were more or less the only people on the beach!).

We enjoyed the beach as much as we could, and even at night when the full moon and the perfect beach together made such a beautiful scene that it made it an impossible task to capture with our camera. The next days we enjoyed the amazing beach, all there just for us. Have you seen the movie “The Blue Lagoon”?? We felt the same, the dream of every traveller, to find a paradise on earth and to have it for you.

However, this island was not only pros. There should be sign with big bold letters saying “be aware of the sand flies”. We did not even know what sand flies were before coming here. It was only after the Dutch girl who recommended us coming to Koh Rong told us about the sand flies, that we started getting to know these tiny horrible creatures. They are smaller than mosquitoes and since they are white, they camouflage pretty well on these beaches sand. You do not feel the bite either, but after a few days, the bites start to itch and the annoying itchy feeling can last several weeks! That was the reason why we were “forced” to spend all our time in the transparent waters :o)

Regarding the sand flies, we think that they were probably put there by God himself just to remind us that there is only one paradise…but if you get along with them, Koh-Rong will always be that place you think of when people mention heaven from now on.

Image
Lovely little girl from the village who was playing with us and even made a drawing of us!

Kampot…and our friend Darren (06-08.01.12)

Kampot was in my mental list of “must-see places in Cambodia” since I saw some pictures of this place on the internet when reading about the country. It seemed such a charming and beautiful place, with lovely country side and small villages scattered around it! Just by looking at these wonderful pictures I fell in love with the place and I promised to myself that I’d try to visit it during our Asian trip.

Iván and Son with the local children or a village nearby Kampot

We got to Kampot in the late afternoon after a bus ride from Phnom Penh that took about 3-4 hours. Kampot is a riverside town located in the South of Cambodia. It is 25 Km from the sea, the closest seaside town being Kep. We did not stay in the town itself, but on the other side of the river, 15 minutes walking from Kampot, in the place managed by a Belgium guy called Olly. We got one of the four bungalows and immediately went to have a swim in the river, which you can access directly from Olly’s bar!

A little after sunrise, sitting in Olly's riverside bar

Back in Kratie, the first day we arrived to Cambodia, we had met a nice Canadian girl in the guesthouse. She had already visited Kampot and she recommended us to contact a local guide called “Rugby”. She said that she had spent a fabulous day around Kampot with him and we decided to call him that same night. We were a bit sceptical about hiring a guide because we are really used to travelling on our own and sometimes we find it a bit odd and difficult. However, “Rugby”, or Darren, as he introduced himself, was totally different and we were extremely happy to have called him!

Darren came to meet us to Olly’s Place the morning after. He had a motorbike, and recommended us to rent one for us for that day. After driving Iván to the closest motorbike rental place and coming to pick me up at Olly’s, the three of us started exploring the countryside. I was going with Darren on his motorbike and Iván followed us with his.

Ivan happy with his kroma on his rented motorbike

Beautiful and extremelly nice people of a village near Kampot, where Darren brought us

Girls playing by the sea side near Kep

Darren spent the whole day with us and we showed us some of the most fascinating places around Kampot: the salt fields, a rural village where we got to meet some of the friendly families (and a lot of really sweet children!!), the Phnom Chhnork cave with a 7th Hindu temple, a market where we tried some of Cambodian food and where we bought our first kormas (local scarves which everybody in Cambodia wears!), a pepper plantation (we never imagined that our so much used pepper grew like this!) and the seaside town of Kep, where we visited the famous crab market and where we saw an spectacular sunset (one of the most stunning sunsets we have ever seen!).

Salt field near Kampot

7th century hindu temple inside a cave near Kampot

Sonso with a Cambodian kroma in a pepper plantation near Kampot

Close up of the pepper plant in a pepper plantation near Kampot

Crab fishermen and women in the Kep market at sunset

I forgot to mention that in the middle of the day, we met a very nice French guy (Christophe) on his rented motorbike, who joined Darren, Iván and I for the rest of the day.

On the way back to Kampot, we even had the chance to see a traditional marriage (the dry season is the official wedding season in Cambodia). The party can last several days and there is food and music all night looong.

Cambodian wedding

The best of all was the local people. At everyplace we stopped, people were so smiley, friendly, generous…the children were very shy at the beginning, but after ten minutes with them, they started smiling, playing and running all over us. In one of the villages, they kept on bringing flowers to me and putting them on my hair. It is unbelievable that people here, even having so little (sometimes they had only one set of clothes and walked barefoot) they shared everything with us: when we met people who were eating, they wanted to share their food with us. Cambodia is a country where you feel really welcomed by its people and this is one of the best things when you are travelling.

Friendly mum and daughter from a village near Kampot

Cute little boy from a village near Kampot having his breakfast

To end the day, Darren brought us to a local “bungalow local restaurant” where we ate excellent Cambodian food (everything from pork, fish and veggies) and where Darren made us try all the local liquors: ginseng wine with fresh coconut juice, palm wine and rice wine. And as the local tradition says, once you are served a shot and you cheer, you must finish it! In total we drank 3or 4 bottles of these local (and really strong) spirits, and as you can imagine, we all went to bed a little “happier” than usual :o)

Not only Darren showed us all these incredible places around Kampot, but he did it in such a way that he made us feel more like friends than like clients. We got along pretty well and after a couple of hours of having met each other, we were making a lot of jokes to each other and having a lot of fun together. Darren was so generous that when we said good bye to each other, he gave us two presents: a key ring with the shape of a shrimp from Kep and his own cap for Iván. We will never forget this amazing guy.

Thank you Darren for making us spend the best day in Kampot and probably one of the best days in our entire trip!

Sonso and Darren testing local rice at the end of the day

Terrific sunset in Kep

Look at the reflexions on the water!!

Phnom Penh and the shadow of the Khmer Rouge (05-06.01.12)

Some people decide to skip the capital of Cambodia because the main sights of these city are simply to hard and difficult to see or accept. Of course Phnom Penh is not only about the horrible regime of the Khmer Rouge, also called the Pol Pot’s Regime because of the name of its leader, but at the same time one cannot visit Phnom Penh and without learning about the terrible facts that occurred in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979.

We arrived to Phnom Penh in the mid afternoon after a three hour ride from Kompong Cham. The most interesting event in this trip was the stop at a local service area where they were selling deep fried criquets and deep fried tarantulas (uggg!!). After a kind local woman insisted, I had the courage to try a tiny little piece of criquet (it just tasted like oil because of the deep frying…), but I did not dare to try the tarantulas…Apparently, in Cambodia, they are a delicatessen and therefore expensive, and this woman told me that the legs are crunchy and that the best part is the main body, which is full of delicious liquid (uggg again!!!).

Girl eating deep fried snacks: criquets and tarantulas, at a roadside stop between Kompong Cham and Phnom Penh

Following recommendations found in the net, we booked a room in a place called Blue Dog Guesthouse and I have only good words for this place. The guesthouse is owned by a man whose main job is making wooden frames in the ground floor of the building where the guesthouse is located. The man is really kind, but the girls at the reception are really some of the friendliest staff ever! We loved our room in Blue Dog, newly painted and with high ceilings, and we enjoyed a lot the common area, a big room opening to a balcony with TV, lots of DVDs and comfortable chairs. Another great memory of Phnom Penh and of Blue Dog is the delicious coffee with sweet milk and ice…it tasted amazing at any time of the day!!

Iván enjoying an ice coffee with sweet milk in a local bar near our hotel, Phnom Penh

By the way, maybe I also have good memories of this place because while we were there I got some presents by the “Three Holy Kings: Melchor, Gaspar and Baltasar” (Spanish tradition instead of Santa Claus, which consists on giving the Christmas presents the night from the 5th to the 6th of January), who despite the far distance this time, they knew how to find me!

Sonso with her "Three Holy Kings" presents

But focusing on the sights of Phnom Penh, there are two places which give evidence of the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge regime: the Tuol Sleng Museum and The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek.

The Tuol Sleng Museum was a high school until the Khmer Rouge transformed it into the biggest prison of the regime, calling it the Security Prison 21 or S-21. Prisoners or simply people suspected to be traitors to the regime were brought here to be interrogated and tortured. The site has been converted into a museum to testify its cruel past, but most of the area has been kept as the Vietnamese found it in 1979 when they liberated Cambodia from the Kmer Rouge. Everyday there is a projection of the documentary Bophana for free. The documentary it is interesting as it tells a true history of a young woman who fell in love with a Khmer Rouge leader and the consequences that they had to pay. However, the sound was kept so low in the projection room that we could hardly hear it, unfortunately.

After the movie, we joined a German traveller whom we had met a few days before while crossing the border between Laos and Cambodia, and an Australian guy and we hired one of the guides of the museum to show us around the prison and tell us its stories. This is a great way to visit this museum as the personal stories that these guides can tell you are even more shocking than the site itself. Besides you support the guides, who are local students trying to get an extra income.

Tuol Sleng Museum, Phnom Penh

Most of the rooms of the different buildings are empty and you can see the cells where the prisoners were kept. Some of these minuscule compartments still have blood spots on the floor giving testimony of the suffering which the prisoners had to go through…Some rooms have pictures of prisoners and staff of the prison. Some others have paintings made by one of the seven survivors, who just died last year, in which many of the facts he experienced are shown. Finally, there are also some torture instruments at display.

Toul Sleng Museum, Phonm Penh.

The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek is located about 40 minutes away from the city and it is difficult to think that this quiet and beautiful area in the countryside was scenery of the mass killing of thousands of people. In contrast to the German extermination camp, people did not come here to labour. They were just brought here to be killed. Trucks of prisoners from the S-21 prison arrived at night with blinded eyes. They were downloaded from the trucks and they were killed with knives or with the sharp edge of the palm trees (bullets were of course too precious to be wasted on the people).

Shredded piece of cloth at the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, Phnom Penh

At the entrance of the Killing Fields, you can get an audioguide in your language which explains the story of the place and gives the testimony of some survivors. It is an excellent audioguide and the whole tour takes a little more than one hour. Scattered along the fields you can still see pieces of clothes or bones which continue coming to the surface. The care takers of the place have decided not to make more diggings and keep the site as it is now, leaving the rests of all the people here resting in peace as they deserve. The Memorial Stupa is a monument erected in memory of the people who suffered and died by the Pol Pot’s people hands. It has about 8000 skulls on display, showing the diversity of targets of the Khmer Rouge, both in terms of sex and age.

Killing Fields Choeung Ek, Phnom Penh

Finally, beside the fields, a small building explains a bit more about the Khmer Rouge, its methods and it gives details of the ongoing trial of Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch. Duch was the manager of the S-21 prison and he is the only member of the Pol Pot regime who has recognized the crimes committed, including the killing of children and babies by smashing their heads against trees, and who has apologized in public and who has recognized his responsibility for these crimes. All the other members never recognized that any crimes were committed or that they were involved in any.

We were told to be careful in Phnom Pehn, because apparently it is not the safest of the Asian cities. However, everybody we talked to or crossed our paths with was so kind and helpful that we have great memories of our stay in the capital.

Phnom Penh also has a wide riverside avenue which fills with people strolling, playing soccer, skating and dancing every evening.

Riverfront avenue of Phnom Penh at dusk

There was a good vibe in the air the evening that we visited it and we decided to have dinner there: Phnom Penh noodles from a sweet street vendor woman and delicious ice cream in a terrace by the river.

Street vendor selling Phnom Penh noodles (0.25 cents of US$!!), our dinner that night

It was interesting to see this other part of Phnom Penh, which besides its dark past, has a promising future due to the genuine kindness of its people.

Sunset over the Royal Palace of Phnom Penh

Cambodian Mekong towns (03-05.01.12)

Previously in Triptoes: Our two friends had to go through one of the most feared nightmares in SE Asia, the so called “Border between Lao and Cambodia” :o)

Since we already heard a lot about how tedious this border was, we wisely decided to break down the long trip all the way from Laos to Phnom Penh. I can not even think how long it had to be for those doing the whole trip to the capital or even to Siem Reap!!

Anyways, our first stop in Cambodia was the city of Kratie. We got there during the late afternoon but just in time to be more than positively surprise with our hotel (Balcony hotel) and to enjoy the amazing sunset over the Mekong River.

Ivan and I enjoying a beer over the sunset in Kratie

One of the good things about down beating experiences such as the Lao-Cambodia border is that they make people bond a lot. We met a lot of nice people that day and had a lot fun too. Two of those people were Ben and his wife Irina from Belgium. They did not booked a room in our hotel (by far the best in town) so when they were leaving we suggested that could share the room. Really, it was a huuuuge room!!! And they were very happy to do so. We became some sort of buddies and teamed up the following day to go visit the Irradawy dolphins.

The next day we got up early and went looking for the dolphins. They are the main attraction of Kratie since there are not many places (habitats) where these intelligent mammals can still live. They are incredible cute and you can feel why they fascinate so many people. Clever and playful, you can really feel how they look at your eyes like kind of sizing you up are trying to find out what you are up to 

Ben and Ivan in the boat to see the dolphins

Irradaway dolphins near Kratie, Cambodia

The dolphins made our day and after this great experience we packed up our stuff and head to Kompong Cham, our next stop following our plan to break down our trip to the capital, not before enjoying and amazing papaya sandwich (or two) on a baguette.

Little girl doing her homework in the office where we waited for the bus

Kompong Cham was very nice surprise. It was a rather neat city and again, the views over the Mekong River were just stunning. Walking along the river on a fresh evening is just wonderful. Besides, the place is well equipped with nice restaurants and many activities to enjoy in the surroundings.

The life is always connected to the river in Cambodian Mekong towns such as Kompong Cham

Unfortunately, we only had one night to enjoy the place but as usual Sonsoles got the most out of our time, no matter how little it is. So the four of us decided to get a boat and visit the Prey Chung Kran weaving village and Wat Maha Leap. Both places are worth the visit but the boat ride here is an incredible highlight itself. They are about 20 km away from Kompong Cham and after a fast ride on the main river we turned left into a subsidiary of the Mekong and continue for another 45 minutes. The scenery is just brutal, and the “Apocalypse Nowish” landscape is beautiful.

Prey Chung Kran is a very small village where everything has to do with weaving. We were kindly introduced by the locals to the different process of creating the different types of fabric. From here, they supply these fabrics to all around the country. It was our first contact with the omnipresent kroma or typical scarf.

Woman weaving silk scarves in a village near Kompong Cham

Lovely girl in a village near Kompong Cham

Wat Maha Leap is one of the most sacred temples in the country since it is one of the very few wooden temples that had survived over the years. The atmosphere here is very special and the temple is beautiful, especially the dark wooden columns painted with golden motives. Although it is such an important place very few tourists adventure all the way here, so the whole temple was just for us.

Beautiful wooden temple of Wat Maha Leap, near Kompong Cham

Beautiful wooden temple of Wat Maha Leap near Kompong Cham

And to top it all, when the day was ending we just happened to be in the right place at the right time. The sunset from the boat in the middle of the amazing Mekong river was one to remember forever!!

Sunset in the Mekong, Kompong Cham

The next day we left to the capital but before that, we did not want to miss the chance of visiting one of the biggest bamboo bridges in the world!!! And they build it every year!!! Just beautiful!

Wooden bridge in Kompong Cham which is built every dry season

Children going to school in the Mekong side street of Kompong Cham

We would like to thank Ben and Irina for sharing these two fantastic days with us! They are such a kind, generous, fun and interesting couple that it was a pleasure to travel with you! A big hug from here!!

Odyssey in the border (03.01.12)

The whole day to do less than 200 Km? Lots of waiting time and frustration, as well as funny moments? Yes, we are talking about the border crossing betweenLaosandCambodia.

We started this odyssey in Don Det, where we bought a bus ticket to the Cambodian city ofKratiefor 18 dollars each. At 08:30 a.m., together with many other travellers, we waited for our boat to arrive to Don Det’s harbour. From there we crossed to Ban Nakasan (5-10 minutes) where we had to wait for about an hour for a bus to come. While we waited, the same people who has sold us the bus tickets advised us to get the Cambodian visa with them. They had all the forms ready for us to fill out and they asked for 30 dollars each. But we read that the visa were 20 dollars! “Do it yourself at the border, but there are lots of people and a long queue and bus will not wait for you”, was the answer of these guys. We were really angry with the way this people threaten us. How the bus cannot wait for us, if we have paid for the tickets? Almost everybody, except for a few other travellers and us, got the visa through this people. We, however, decided not to contribute to this mafia and to do it ourselves at the border.

Finally, when the bus arrived, we were driven to the border (20-30 minutes), where there was nobody but us (surprise!) and were we got our visa much faster than the people who had done it with the mafia. Moreover, we had to wait for their passports!! Isn’t it unbelievable??

Anyway, finally we paid 28 dollars, instead of the 20 dollars that the official visa cost, and the extra 8 dollars went directly into the border officials pockets: such as “1 dollar to measure your body temperature”, or “ 2 more dollars to get the stamp” or “2 more dollars to get the signature on the visa”. As we say in Spanish: “un cachondeo”…Everybody was pissed off, but what to do?

After waiting for about 30-40 minutes for the other people to get their passports, the group was split into a big bus and a minivan, where we went. We drove about 30 minutes more and the minivan stopped at some road bar. There we waited, and waited, and waited…we did not know what or why…and nobody spoke English. Finally, someone came and we drove again, and this time we did not stop until the first Cambodian town: Stung Streng. Some people got off there, and the rest of us got into the big bus which was waiting for us there (?).

The bus was so crowded with people (and everything else, including bicycles), that we had to sit in small chairs on the corridor of the bus.

Iván in the “middle row” on the trip from Slung Streng to Kratie (the quality of the picture is really bad, but at least you can see how it was!)

Actually, as far as we saw, this is the way most people in Laos and Cambodia travelled, but the annoying part was, that we were charged A LOT for this trip and that the organization and the way they treated us was really bad.

The staff of the different busses and minivans was really rude and they treated us like animals, but I want to believe that it is because us Westerners are also rude to them many times, because everybody inCambodiais so nice and friendly, that I refuse to believe that they are just like that.

Despite the difficult day, we ended up meeting many other travellers that day and we laughed a lot of the whole situation, so when we think of this odyssey a big smile come to our faces.

Anyway, we finally arrived to Kratie around 4 p.m., with time enough to check-in in our hotel and enjoy a beer while the sun was setting under theMekong…