Wednesday June 12-Saturday June 15
We used the last of our Ringgits at the airport to buy McDonalds, but we still didn’t have enough so the manager came over and gave us a “staff discount” so we could afford it. Then we went through security and met Philipp. We ate our burgers while waiting for our flight to Phnom Penh.
When we arrived we paid $20 for our tourist visas and then attempted to withdraw money from an ATM. The ATMs in Cambodia only dispense US dollars. Sarah and Philipp both were rewarded with 2 crisp $100 bills, while I opted to withdraw $190 in order to receive smaller bills. Therefore dinner was on me, as its not easy to find someone who has change for a $100 bill as a months wages are approximately $70. We took a hazy tuktuk into the city and arrived at our guesthouse, Nomads. The next day, we attempted to visit the Royal Palace but it was closed to the public in preparation for the queen mother’s birthday, which is June 18. So we meandered around orienting ourselves with the CBD of Phnom Penh and also shopped in the huge market. We also met Myrthe (a dutch friend of Sarah’s, whom she met in Australia). She toured Phnom Penh with us over the next couple of days. The next day we hired a tuktuk (with driver) to go to the S-21 museum and the Killing Fields. This was a highly educational day. I did not know much about Cambodia’s violent history until this day…it also rained for most of the day…most of the trip. Rainy season in Cambodia! Yayyy! The next day we walked to Wat Phnom, which is a (buddhist) temple. There are many, many, many Wats in Cambodia. After that we hired a tuktuk to go to the Russian Marketplace and bought some elephant pants! Yay for Philipp! After this, we went to the Royal Palace and it was good that Philipp bought pants because you have to have your shoulder and knees covered while in certain building in the Royal Palace. Then it rained and rained some more, so we ran to Dairy Queen and ate blizzards. The next morning we hopped a bus out of Phnom Penh.
Kratie (pronounced Kra-chay)
Sunday June 16-Tuesday June 18
Sunday morning Myrthe left us and Philipp, Sarah and I attempted to take the scheduled 8:00am bus to Kratie. When we arrived at the bus station we were told that there was no 8am bus, the next one was at 10:30. Also they raised the price from what we were told, so we decide to try to catch a ‘minibus’ to Kratie. These are usually 12 seater vans. We negotiated/bargained a price with a middle man for a ride headed to Kratie in ten minutes. We were told that the drive would be four hours. We hopped into the minibus, along with 10 other people and a couple burlap sacks of unidentified root vegetables.. We proceeded to sit. For over an hour. Waiting to this ‘minibus leaving in ten minutes’. We waited, discussing whether or not to jump back out of the minibus, to just take the normal bus, until our minibus was actually hit by a big bus. Joyous! The ensuing dispute with everyone who saw the accident on the entire street, helped us make up our minds. We hopped off and ram back to the bus station and booked tickets. Yay for air conditioned buses. We enjoyed the air conditioning and Cambodian karaoke videos shown on the bus very much so we did not mind overly that our 4 hour bus ride ended up taking over 8 hours. We took bets as to what our arrival time would be. Can’t remember who won, but it was the first of our inaccurate but enjoyable days completely used up on a bus. We arrived in Kratie and found a room at Star Guesthouse. Great food here.
Monday we hired a tuktuk and driver (who was amazing and bought us sweet rice stuffed in a bamboo branch and then later fried bananas) and went to see the freshwater dolphins in the morning! I’m so glad we did. It was awesome and apparently they likely won’t be there after a couple of years from now because the Mekong River is scheduled to get dammed up in Laos and the whole river system will likely be totally obliterated.
After the dolphin cruise we went to a hilltop Wat, and climbed SEVERAL steps to see it as well as the (obstructed) view of the Mekong River and some ‘mountain people’ who live on the hill. The only (visible) difference between the ‘mountain people’ and the locals, that we could visually determine, was that the mountain people shave their heads. In one of the pagodas there were several murals depicting the hell and damnation that people who don’t receive enlightenment go through. Pretty terrible. Later we went to the edge of the river to see a floating village. Pretty cool! The next morning we hopped a bus to Siem Reap.
Tuesday, June 18-Saturday June 22
The bus to Siem Reap was supposed to take about 6 hours. That turned into over 12 hours. But it did have aircon, so it wasn’t so bad. Just another entire day day of our holiday spent on a bus. We arrived and hopped off the bus to immediately get mauled by tuktuk drivers trying to get our business. This happens every time a bus arrives anywhere in SE Asia. We thought our guesthouse was close enough to walk to so when Sarah was asked, “Tuktuk?” She immediately replied “no, too expensive.” This did not impress many drivers because they hasn’t yet named a price, but Philipp and I found it highly comical. For most things purchased in Cambodia you have to negotiate a price and foreigners get charged more than locals. The comeback price quoted was $100USD. We did end up taking a tuktuk for $2 because the bus station was not so close to our guesthouse. We liked the driver so much that we hired him for three days to drive us around The Angkor temple complex, for the competitive price of $15 per day. We check into our hotel, which was quite nice actually, with three single beds in our private room, breakfast included and we even had a pool.
The next morning we had breakfast and caught our tuktuk ride at 8:30am to the temples.
The first day we did a circuit around the east side. This was the longest day and we saw the most structures, mostly smaller than on the other two days. We also bought some coconuts to drink and took a long lunch break and rested in hammocks before finishing our day touring. When I upload the photos from the temples I will be able to say which temples we visited on what days. The second day we had an early start. Our tuktuk driver picked us up at 4:45am so we could reach the temple complex in time for the colorful sunrise! That was quite beautiful. Next we saw the Angkor Thom complex and the temple shown in the movie Tomb Raider. Both were spectacular and awe inspiring. We saw the majority of the structure these first two days and were tired out on the second one by about 2pm or so on the second day, so we decided to take a day off before coming back to finish out temple touring. On the road just outside the temple walls we had to stop to see some elephants! Sarah’s favorite animal is the elephant and during the whole trip she was hoping to be able to interact with some Asian Elephants so we were excited when we saw some (even if they were there as a tourist attraction) and got to pet them.
The next day we rested and swam in the guesthouse pool, attempted to avoid the afternoon rainy-season showers, and eventually made our way to some shops and browsed. We ended up having hour long massages and eating dinner in Siem Reap.
The next morning we once again got up early (not quite as early as 4am) and headed to the temple complex to focus on Angkor Wat, with its famous 5 towered silhouette. It was lovely and considerably well preserved but we all agreed that we couple have just toured it on one of the earlier days because it only took a couple of hours.
For once our bus was only about an hour later than the quote journey length! We arrived in Sihanoukville late Sunday morning and caught a tuktuk to a hostel on Otres Beach. Unfortunately the one we tried to get a room at was closed for renovations so we stayed across the road at another property which I can’t even remember the name of but they used a lot of blue in their decor. It was right on the beach so it couple have been nice in the right season. Unfortunately the weather was not in our favour while in Sihanoukville so we weren’t impressed. We only stay only 24 hours and then booked seats on a minibus to Kampot, a riverside town a couple of hours away.
Monday June 24
This morning we took a minibus to Kampot, which is a nice riverside town with some good outdoor activities. We did a lot if walking around in the town, self guides touring and we also did a day tour on a mountain just outside town. I think it was the Bokor Mountain in the Bokor National Park. We saw the Black Palace, the Bokor Hill Station (an old hotel building uses by Pol Pot as a headquarters), the Old Catholic Church, the new giant resort & casino complex, a lovely huge waterfall, a Buddhist temple, and then to finish it off the tree of us trekked down the lower half of the mountain. It took about three hours and was a bit slippery and spidery in some places but exhilarating! At the bottom we stopped at a farmhouse on a river and Philipp and Sarah went for a swim. At the bottom of the hill we got picked up and taken for a one hour evening river cruise. At this point we were so exhausted from our day (and I kind of found the boat trip dull) that I think I took a small nap on the boat. It was neat to see orange hanging from trees and flowers floating by us in the water.
In Kampot we stayed at a place called the Magic Sponge (no idea why it has that name) which is owned by a former American, and we ate a few times at a Lonely Planet recommended place called the Rusty Keyhole. Very good slow cooked pork short ribs and also a huge portion of muesli and yoghurt with fresh fruit. On Wednesday we pretty much just walked all over Kampot. Kind of did laps around it. We had a tourist map and just visited whatever points of interest we wanted 🙂
Thursday June 27-Saturday June 29
Thursday we caught a bus back to Phnom Penh and walked all the way back to Nomads backpackers and checked in (not terribly far from the bus stop but we were carrying our big backpacks). This time we got a room with no windows but it did have (wonderful) air conditioning!
Friday June 28
Philipp flew back to Australia. Sarah and I sent off our passports for Vietnamese tourist visas. We watched a movie in the local theatre: Monsters University.
Saturday June 29
Today we visited some pharmacies and shopped. Later in the day we picked up our passports/visas, then watched a movie: Superman Man of Steel. That night we took the overnight bus to Vietnam.