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Cambodia

We’ve just crossed the border from Cambodia back into Thailand. Here is a selection of photos from Cambodia that didn’t make it into the earlier blog posts

 

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Battambang is a three hour bus ride south-west of Siem Reap and in many respects it's the hidden jewel of Cambodia. In the last 48 hours we've travelled on the bamboo railway, toured the local countryside and been to a circus show!

The bamboo railway is one of the highlights of a stay in Battambang. The 'train' is made of a bamboo platform which sits on two sets of wheels, with power supplied by a small motor. You rattle along a railway track through the countryside for about 20 minutes before stopping at the 'station' where you're met by three generations of the same family with the children eager to show you their skills at weaving grasshoppers, bracelets, rings and stars out of bamboo leaves

The return trip is much the same but the highlight is when two trains meet on the track. Protocol dictates that the train with the lighter load gives way. In practice this means dismantling the train completely and lifting it to the side of the track whilst the other train passes. The train is then reassembled back on the track and off you go again!

The countryside around Battambang is described as being 'National Geographic' photography worthy. To us it looked little different to much of the countryside we had already driven through. That said you can't help but stumble across photo opportunities such as one of the few suspension bridges in Cambodia which moves under your feet as you walk across. It therefore takes a degree of skill to ride a scooter across, particularly when your laden down with cargo as everyone seems to be here!

We also saw a number of older men covered in tattoos designed to protect them against evil spirits and harm during the various wars that have ravaged the country in the last 40 years. At least it worked for them

As luck would have it we arrived in Battambang on the same day as the weekly circus performance was taking place. We drove out into the middle of nowhere and then suddenly turned into what looked like a farmyard. What we found was an arts centre, a 'big top' circus tent and a welcoming bar (aren't they all!)

We were treated to a high energy, highly skilled and very entertaining show. If you ever wanted to run away to the circus this would be the one! The circus is supported by a local NGO, Phare Ponleu, which gives children from deprived backgrounds the opportunity to channel their energies into learning circus skills and other artistic activities whilst raising their awareness of HIV/Aids, children's rights and land mines. The project has been such a success that two members of the troupe have been given scholarships with the Cirque de Soleil in Montreal!

Cambodia has been one of the highlights of our travels so far. We've met some great people, seen some wonderful sights and learned much about it's history. What more can a traveller want?

 

What can you say that hasn’t already been said about the ‘eighth wonder of the world’?

Probably not a lot! The things that strike you most are the scale and number of temples together with the fact that the temples span both the Hindu and Buddhist religions reflecting the fact that the country’s dominant religion has shifted several times over the course of its history

We bought a three-day pass, probably the minimum amount of time you need to visit the temples. It also gives you chance to revisit one of the temples should the heavens open as was the case on our second day!

Angkor Wat (Hindu), the most iconic of the temples, is a three-tiered pyramid crowned with five lotus-like towers with the highest rising 65m above the ground. The lower levels are covered in bas-reliefs depicting stories and characters from Hindu mythology and the historical wars of Suryavarman II who used it as his state temple. The best time of day to see the temple is at dawn from across the moat when the rising sun creates a dramatic silhouette of the temple and its surrounding buildings

Angkor Thom (Buddhist) is a walled and moated city covering over three square kilometres that was the last capital of the Angkorian empire. Most of the construction took place in the late 12th and early 13th centuries coinciding with the reign of Jayavarman VII. The city walls have five enormous entrance gates each crowned with four giant faces

Bayon Temple (Buddhist) is the state temple of Angkor Thom which took over a century to complete. It’s made up of 37 standing towers most of which also have four giant faces

Ta Prohm (Buddhist) is probably most famous for being the location used for Tomb Raider starring Angelina Jolie! In some respects this was the most dramatic of all the temples with large parts of it having fallen into ruin but held in place by the root systems of towering silk cotton and fig trees growing around and sometimes through the stonework!

Perhaps the best way of all to see the temples is by hot air balloon, maybe next time!

 

After two weeks we finally tore ourselves away from the comfort and familiarity of Hotel9 and Phnom Penh. We travelled to Siem Reap on the ‘Mekong Express Limousine Bus’ which is a very grand name for a somewhat ordinary bus. Still it got us there in one piece after another six hour journey. On arrival we went through the now familiar routine of negotiating with the tuk-tuk driver and politely but firmly declining his offer to take us to ‘Yeta-Nother Guest House at very special price’

‘Same Same But Different’ is a phrase you often hear in Asia and means just what is says. So it is with Siem Reap. Tuk-Tuks, street markets, street vendors and beggars are all here however the big draw is the temples at Angkor Wat, hailed as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’, which we look forward to visiting tomorrow!

 

Yesterday we visited Phnom Tamao animal sanctuary with Betelnut Tours. All the animals apart from the monkeys have been rescued and are in the process of being rehabilitated. Those that are capable of surviving are released back into the wild, those that aren’t are kept at the sanctuary along with the endangered species which become part of the breeding programme

On the website it describes the tour as follows:

This is not a luxury air con tour. You will spend a lot of time in the sun, you will get dirty and sweaty, you will have to do some walking and climb in and out of the jeep. This trip is not for everyone. Roads are bumpy, elephants will put dirt and saliva on you and if it rains you will get wet.

We have never had a complaint and we would like to keep it that way. If this doesn’t sound like your idea of fun – don’t do it. However, if you want a unique experience, can handle getting hot and dirty and want to meet some amazing people who are working with some incredible animals – then this is your trip

This proved to be a pretty good description. It was hot, we got dirty and sweaty but it was by far the best place to see animals that we’ve visited so far!

Road users in Phnom Penh have a very relaxed approach about getting from A to B.

Tuk-Tuks, SUVs, motos, rickshaws and pedestrians seem to co-exist quite happily in what seems, at first glance, to be traffic chaos. Driving on the wrong side of the road, going the wrong way down a one-way street or the wrong way round a roundabout are all standard manoeuvres. Junctions are particularly unnerving as priority seems to be a combination of ‘first-come, first-served’ with a touch of ‘who dares wins’ thrown in for good measure

At first it’s a bit scary, but then you realise it works the same way as everything else in the city and the introduction of rules and regulations would only serve to cause total chaos with everything grinding to a halt in no time at all!

 

Phnom Penh is little different to any of the the other large towns and cities that we’ve visited in SE Asia in that life is lived on the streets (even when it rains and boy does it rain!)

Tuk-tuks, scooters and street vendors all play their part in the frenetic daily life of the city. It’s impossible to walk more than a few yards without a chorus of ‘tuk-tuk’ from drivers eager to ferry you from one place to another. Scooters weave in and out of the traffic sometimes with as many as 5 people on board and street vendors peddle anything from books and DVDs to street food and lottery tickets

All this activity gives the city a buzz and a vibrancy and demonstrates the resilience of the human spirit and an intoxicating optimism about the future that would have seemed impossible thirty-five years ago

and when there’s nothing else to do, what better than a game of Flip Flop p├ętanque?