Friday, August 3, 2007

The day of temples

I wanted to do something a little different for this visit to Angkor since I saw most of the more famous sites the last time I was here. So I'd planned a day that would take me to two temples that were off the beaten path, with the furthest of them being about 80 km from Siem Riep. I had also wanted to go to Kbal Spean, a riverbed with thousands of carvings around it. But the road out there ended up being impassable by tuk-tuk. The girl I met on the boat thought it all sounded like a good idea, so she joined me.
These first pictures are of Beng Melea. It was built in the 12th century, and has been left completely to nature. Lonely Planet calls it the true "Indiana Jones" experience. I'd kind of have to agree since when we got there we heard all this yelling and some of the Cambodians were after a boa constrictor. Not sure what they were going to do with it once they caught it, but it was entertaining to watch.

This whole temple area was really amazing, and other than a few walk ways it really was an adventure. We crawled all over the stones to get up to other parts of the temple, and then through the more intact areas, fighting our way through spider webs and who knows what else.

It was also blissfully light on tourists, making it well worth the trip out there. Plus the scenery on the drive almost made it worth it all on its own.

After Beng Melea we headed to Banteay Srea--"The Citadel of the Women." It is one of the smaller temples, but it was thought to have been made by women because of the incredibly intricate carvings on all of the stone. It really was beautiful and very well preserved. You could stand and stare at one side of one of the small temples for 20 minutes and just continue to see new details emerge.

We then went to Banteay Samre, a slightly less impressive temple, but still nice to wander around, and again almost tourist-less.
After that we hit Pre Rup, where we made a quick climb to the top.
Then on to Phnom Bakheng for the sunset. It was a super busy day, but absolutely incredible. We wrapped it up with dinner at a nice spot in the Alley and dessert at the Blue Pumpkin. The next morning I got up and wandered around the town, checking out galleries and markets until it was time to catch the bus back to Phnom Penh.

The first night in Siem Riep

After checking in to the guest house, Steph and I arranged with our driver to go to see Angkor Wat after 5:00 (the day pass for the next day starts at that time--so you get a little extra for your money). It started pouring rain as we approached Angkor Wat, but we made the most of it and had a great time exploring the Angkor in the thunder and lightening. It added a really interesting feel to the whole experience.
Angkor Wat is the largest, and most famous, of the temples in the area. These temples were the capital of Cambodia's ancient Khmer empire which lasted from about AD 802 to 1432.

We had a bit of an adventure on our way back, as the rain had caused the roadways to flood dramatically. Our tuk-tuk died out in the middle of one such road turned river and we had to get out and walk down the street while our driver pushed it to higher and drier ground. The moto was quite damaged by the water, however, so we enjoyed the hospitality of two Cambodian women under their food cart umbrella while our driver took the moto to be repaired.

We finally made it back "home" though and dried off in time for a fantastic dinner at the Red Piano on a balcony overlooking "Bar Street." This street, as well as the "Alley," are an amazing find in Cambodia. Most of the restaurants have balconies looking over the streets which are shut down for pedestrians, there's live music and just a great atmosphere. Down the Alley (which is just that, so not so much with the balconies overlooking the street) I also discovered a number of little art shops that were fun to stroll through.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Boat ride, floating villages

The boat trip to Siem Riep was a beautiful trip--although it could have been about 3 hours instead of 7. As you can see, we were a bit crammed on not exactly comfortable benches, but it was well worth it.

We travelled through some pretty narrow stretches where the going was a bit trecherous. Lost someone's bag at one point when the boat tipped quite violently, but they were able to fish it out. And we almost lost our guy on the front of the boat when we ran into some trees and bushes. He got knocked off, but managed to hang on to the side. A little wet, but not too much worse for the wear. You can see he sometimes had to work quite hard to get us out of the mud.

But we finally made it to the some wider sections of river and the going was much easier. We passed by many floating villages where they have everything from floating churches to basketball courts. Then we got to cruise on Tonle Sap, the giant lake that is right in the center of Cambodia. After we docked (and the boat was overrun by aggressive tuk-tuk drivers) we found a nice driver named Kun and my new friend Steph (from the boat ride) and I made our way into town.


Battambang was the first stop on my little four day excursion I just returned from. I left Phnom Penh early Monday morning, taking about a 5 hour bus ride up to Battambang. The main reason for this side-trip to Battambang was so I could take the scenic boat ride to Siem Riep, but Battambang has some attributes of its own that make it a nice stop. The primary one is its French colonial architecture.
I decided I wanted to just spend the afternoon walking around, so I spent about 3 hours wandering along the riverside (pictures above) and seeing most of the town.
The buildings really were interesting in some parts of the town. For the most part, they were rather dilapidated or covered in advertisements, so you don't get the feeling from the buildings that you would in say New Orleans (or France I would imagine?). But there are some that are quite impressive.
There were also some really neat wats (temples) around the town, and of course cows.
I also did a little wandering through the marketplace (pictured from the outside below), finding a great deal on a fake designer purse. I also discovered a hair salon bearing my name, but refrained from exploring that one any further.
The day in Battambang was really, really nice. Everyone was super friendly as I walked around, saying hi and smiling, not trying to sell me anything. Even the moto drivers left me alone. I had dinner at a nice training restaurant and met an older lady from Boston who I chatted with. Then I had some dessert on the rooftop of my hotel, looking out over the town and watching the lightening. There was this terrific, cool breeze and the whole thing was just great.
My wonderful Battambang experience continued in the (early) morning. The van for the boat was leaving the hotel at 6:30 so I got up early and went to this nice coffee shop down the street to grab some breakfast for the road. I sat and chatted with another older lady from the States who is with some church group. She is the Cambodian coordinator for volunteer groups that come over and do things like build basketball courts and then do camps for kids. Not sure what else they do, but that's what her current group was doing. I got my breakfast and then got on the van, at which point some guy from the hotel I stayed at brought me a scarf and a bunch of bananas for the long boat ride. Not bad for $5 a night. I think everyone got a scarf, but the bananas were a special treat for some reason. I must have looked extra hungry.
So then to the boat....

Sunday, July 29, 2007


I have returned from my trip to the beach, bronzed (maybe more of a reddish-bronze) and relaxed (maybe more exhausted). I traveled down by taxi on Friday night with two other Americans and a girl from New Zealand. We checked in to our beautiful hotel (see picture of pool) and then met up with Jens, Bernhardt, Anya, and Emir for dinner at Eden.

After dinner we ended up at the Blue Dolphin, apparently quite the hopping place. Here we stayed, drinking, playing in the water, dancing like fools, and watching people much crazier than us, until 4 am. This bar also has these chains with balls on them you can light on fire and do all sorts of fun dance type things. I stayed away from the drunk people with flames. Although, there was a young girl there who was quite skilled at it. After the bar we went back to our hotel and swam in the pool until about 5, watching the sun come up in a light rain.

Saturday we just spent playing on the beach and in the water. Really beautiful beaches and warm, clear water. Was extremely relaxing and much needed after our late night out.
Saturday night we all went out to dinner (joined by one more American at this point), then we all went for a walk down the beach to meet up with some other people. I made it in before 1 am this time!
This morning just got up and went to the beach for a few hours before we had to head out on the bus.
Some of the interesting things to happen to us: Danielle's camera fell out of her bag in the taxi and even though she called the next morning the driver, of course, could not find it. Johanna had her camera stolen out of her bag at the beach on Saturday. Lots of little kids around there stealing money and valuables right out from under you. I caught one before he made off with stuff from another girl's purse. Kind of brings the relaxation value down a notch.
Saturday night when we were walking to dinner a moto flew by and tried to grab Johanna's bag. The guy didn't get it, but he pulled her along for a second and she has bruises all over her arm now. Then on our bus ride home we saw someone on the side of the road who'd been killed in an accident--probably on a moto. So that was a little tramatic.
On a lighter note, a cow came onto the dance floor at the Blue Dolphin last night. Stood there for a few minutes (not quite long enough for me to get my camera out although I tried) before they chased him out. That's almost better than home!
Tomorrow morning I'm heading to Battambang, a town that's supposed to have some of the best French-colonial architecture in the area. And from there I'll take a boat to Siem Riep and spend some time at the Angkor Wat temples. So, the next blog will be when I return from that little trip--should be good pictures!