28.04.2010 - 08.05.2010 34 °C
We arrived in one piece after the 8 hour flight and managed to catch the coach from the airport to KL City Centre (KLCC) without any issues. We then caught the train to Pasar Seni – Chinatown. We made our way to the guesthouse as recommended in our guide book. It was an absolute dive. The room was essentially a cell with a rickety old fan in it and a threadbare, fagburned sheet. Nonetheless it was only a few ringitts for the night so after inspection Richard said a knackered, ‘Yes we’ll take it’ to the proprietor. Joy was not amused and less amused still when she discovered rats fornicating in the bins near the toilet in the middle of the night. GRIM. That night we had a couple of drinks in the reggae bar downstairs to drown our sorrows of the bed and celebrate being in Asia!
The next day we packed up our stuff ready to go but got the chance to wander around the city for a few hours first as we’d woken up really early. We grabbed some delicious food from a little stall near Central Market, we had a stroll through the market but didn’t buy anything despite seeing lots of nice stuff (as we’d have to lug it around for the next couple of months) and then took and little tiki tour around Chinatown.
Next we headed to the bus stop to go and visit the Batu Caves which are huge limestone caves housing Hindu shrines where huge festivals are held every year. It is also home to the world’s largest statue of Murugan, a Hindu deity. This place is also rife with monkeys and it was fun to watch tourists tease them with food and then wonder why the monkeys tried to attack them. Bloody tourists! We didn’t tease them, namely because we’re not idiots and we didn’t get our rabies shots.
On our return we decided to move to the Grocer’s Inn – a guesthouse recommended in our budget Lonely Planet, so it was still cheap but a little more cheerful than ‘Bang Kwang’ as we’d come to know our previous lodgings. There was a nice roof garden and it was right amongst the busy night market so we spent the evening wandering the stalls and purchasing ourselves some ‘Ray Bans’ and a Tiger Beer singlet for Richard. While in KL we managed to eat our first noodles for breakfast and Richard his first curry for breakfast which we are sure is going to become something of a norm over the coming weeks.
The next day we had to leave KL which was both a ballache and a bit of a shame as we had come to enjoy it and found the people very friendly indeed. We got the same train and bus back to the airport and hopped on our flight to Cambodia! The flight was a mere 3 hours this time and we arrived at about 5 in the evening. We hopped in a taxi to get dropped off on road 93, the home of ‘Number 9’ Lakeside Guesthouse. Our first impressions when arriving in the city were astonishment at the traffic! Coming from Australia – literally open road for miles, there seem to be no rules here! 90% of the traffic is motos and tuk-tuks and there can be up to about 7 lanes on the road by the looks of it! People generally tend to drive on the right but it is not uncommon to see someone driving on the left if they so choose, ‘til they can swerve out and join the right lane! Indicating doesn’t happen, you just go for it and hope - everyone is going at a maximum of 40 miles an hour so it is feasible for the oncoming traffic to slow down or stop to prevent a crash! Crossing the road as a pedestrian roughly works like this also – you just make sure there are no SUVs or cars coming and just walk.... Miraculously the motos just weave around you, sparing your life.
On our first evening at Number 9 we took our first sip of 50 cent beer. 30p for a jug of beer. Amazing. We are proud to say this is where we first drank Angkor beer which is very tasty indeed. We went out for a Khmer curry at a nearby restaurant named The Lazy Gecko which was to become a favourite. This was where we saw ‘Chook’ the Pug as seen in the very poor photo below. The next day we hit the tourist sights – the temples, a stroll down the Ton Le Sap, a visit to the National Monument. Sadly the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda were shut! We had managed stupidly to be out in the hottest part of the day and by about 3pm we were pooped and decided to head back.
The next day we didn’t do much other than chill out and play pool – it was Sunday after all. That night Richard met a guy called Freddy from London who he got talking to and over the next few days we spent a lot of our time with him and his girlfriend Katy.
The next evening we all headed out to the Night Market but sadly as it wasn’t the weekend it was shut! This was a bit gutting but the Tuk Tuk driver (who suddenly realised as he set us down next to the closed market that it wasn’t open on a Monday) pointed us in the direction of a more makeshift local market, parting with the words – ‘Be careful, keep hold of your bags, there is no security here,’ before riding off into the night. We had a wander through on the hunt for some cheap food but the deep fried crickets and chicken claws didn’t take our fancy. It was an interesting experience though, nice to see some of the more traditional foods and there were less people pushing their wares on your here as I guess not many tourists go. We opted to get some noodles at a restaurant as a treat, reasonably priced and very tasty.
The next day we decided to visit the Killing Fields. We knew we would have to confront the country’s shocking history at some point. We had a wander around guided by a gentleman we met on the inside (of the Killing Fields, not Bang Kwang). His mother, father and sister had died during Pol Pot’s regime, probably at the Killing Fields outside Phnom Penh. It was quite harrowing to hear his stories at the same time as walking around the holes where mass graves had been exhumed. Quite often after there has been rain, bones, clothes and teeth get washed up from the mud, all of which we saw. We were all in silence pretty much the whole way home, til Katie and Freddy picked up their Vietnam visas and had something to be happy about!
While Katy and Freddie entered the embassy our tuk-tuk driver, Arun, got chatting to us and asked if we would like to hear some music to which we said yes. He got out an instrument we cannot remember the name of and played us a few tunes which was nice! We decided to make the most of the day and stop off at the central market where we got some food from a local cafe who charged us over the odds, but this is par for the course when you wander in with a white face and no command of the Khmer language! We had a wander past the guards with their AK-47s and into the market where we picked up a plug adaptor for $1 and Joy got two big traditional Cambodian scarves for $4. We all went back and had a well-earned shower before getting a few drinks.
The next day we were to leave Phnom Penh for Siem Reap! We got our bus at around 11am and made it there just before the sun set. The journey was pretty crap as the air con wasn’t working in one seat and the coach was full to the brim. At one point half way there a few more people got on and they pulled out baby stools and put them in the aisles for them to sit on! When we got to Siem Reap we had a tuk-tuk driver waiting for us (thanks to the excellent and trustworthy travel agency dude we met!) who took us to Garden Village. Now admittedly we wouldn’t have stayed at the Garden Village if they weren’t affiliated with the tour operator we booked through, but to their credit they made the whole journey pretty easy for us and the place looked nice so we decided to stay. We got a huge room for $6 a night which was so big and airy it almost felt like it had aircon.
That night we weren’t up to much but we got an early night ready to see the Angkor temples. We had enjoyed Phnom Penh so much we realised we hadn’t left ourselves a lot of time before we would meet Michaela and Lindsay in Sihanoukville! So we hopped in a tuk-tuk (with the world’s shyest tuk-tuk driver whose sister had to negotiate for him) and headed to Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is actually just one temple but a huge one surrounded by an equally huge moat! It was fascinating climbing through all the old rooms (and nice to be in the cool as it was another scorching day). It was like stepping back in time – work started on the Angkor temples in the 11th century. It was spectacular.
Next was Angkor Thom – an area with several temples and pools. Again these were amazing, it was like wandering around a lost village. Restoration work is still being done on the area and each area seems to have a different country as a sponsor for the work which is pretty cool, as Cambodia can’t really afford to do it alone. It must rake in a fair amount in tourism though, it was heaving. This is reflected in the hundreds of fervent salespeople running around screaming ‘COLD DRINK!!’, ‘LADY, YOU BUY!!’ and ‘BUY BRACELET FOR LADY FRIEND!!’ at you when you leave each area.
Next was Phnom Bakeng. Richard enjoyed this area especially as there has been less interference here and the temple is roughly how it was found in the 1850s. Huge trees grow out of ancient monuments and buildings, so Richard took a few thousand snaps .
Next was a quick stop to the Royal Baths, but by this point we were absolutely pooped, the sun had beaten us so we decided to go back for a shower. We had done a successful 5 hours temple ogling though! We went back to the Garden Village and decided, after a shower, ANOTHER haircut for Richard and a lie down in the cool room, that we would go for a nice meal in the town, to try and see a bit more of it as we would have to leave the next day for Sihanoukville. We went to ‘Butterflies Garden’ – a restaurant enclosed by a huge net full of butterflies! Sadly we forgot that Butterflies tend to go to sleep in the evening so we had to make do with a few frogs and mosquitoes. The food was INCREDIBLE though – a little more than we were used to paying but at $4/$5 a meal this is still not bad! It was absolutely delicious and we also got to try a Beerlao. After the food we went to the night market which was in full swing. It was a really good market, completely aimed at tourists but a friendly, happy place to be with lots of options for eating, drinking, buying thai pants and singlets and getting your feet massaged/nibbled by fish! We didn’t do all this though, after Richard tried on every Angkor Beer singlet in the market, finding his Angkor beer gut too big each time, we merely bought some scarves at 3 for $2 as gifts for MJ, Lindsay and Eva and wandered home, knowing we were going to have to catch the bus early the next morning.
Next morning we were up and at reception at 6.30 as we had been told to do by the receptionist to wait for the coach. Bear in mind we were wary of the time it would take to get us to Sihanoukville so we changed from the 8.30 bus to the 7.30 one at reception (which seemed to consist of the receptionist just crossing out 8.30 on her whiteboard and writing 7.30). So we’d got up at 6 and rushed to get dressed then we waited.... and waited.... By 7.20 a friendly tuk-tuk driver offered us a lift to the bus station, getting us there at about five to 8, so we ended up hopping on the 8.30 bus anyway. We aren’t sure there was ever a 7.30 bus but we’re sure the receptionist had a good laugh about it!
The bus was nice though, aircon and a toilet too! It took about 6hrs 45mins in total which was a annoying as we had set off late to begin with so we missioned it back to our travel agent dude who said the last bus for Sihanoukville would leave at 2.45. It was 2.30!! DUN DUN DUNNNNN!! This was where the Cambodian’s relaxed attitude to time keeping would work in our favour. We took a leisurely (and free) taxi drive to the bus station, picked up some pastries to munch and some water and hopped on the bus, setting off at about ten past 3. The bus was nice and empty too so the aircon actually worked. Four hours later we had arrived at Sihanoukville after eating no proper food all day and 10 hours of bus rides we were ready for the party to begin!