Surfacing again after several months of "radio silence". The latest posts should bring things up to date. I have now moved back to the UK into the somewhat surreal world that is Flete House. I am planning to head off up the Mekong and Red Rivers in Vietnam and Laos later this month. 2023 has arrived so Happy New Year !!
Sunset and sunrise and river life on the way to Phnom Penh:
We arrived on the outer outskirts of Phnom Penh and were transported by Tuk-tuk to Silk Island where – yes guess what ! – they make silk and weave it into scarves. Unfortunately the shop only sold overpriced scarves so any ideas of buying a nice silk shirt were dashed !
Then a Martial Arts demonstration which reminded me of TV wrestling as it looked quite impressive but no-one got hurt !!
Back to the ship to get tarted up for a “special” cocktail party in the garden of Raffles Hotel. Famous (well almost apparently) because Jackie Kennedy stayed here (her lipstick is still on the glass) while her husband was preparing to launch a series of ill-fated assaults in what rapidly escalated into the 17 year Vietnam War. Charlie Chaplin was also supposed to have been a guest but we could find no trace !
A relatively civilised 10 am departure from Siem Reap for a five hour bus ride to Kampong Cham to meet our boat the Tonle Pandaw which will be home for the next week and take us across the border into Vietnam. Lots of Rice Paddies and Rubber Plantations. Rice Paddies are a tad parched as we are well into the dry season. Which means that I will have to come back in the rainy season when all will be lush and green.
So boarded the Tonle Pandaw and started observing life along the Mighty Mekong River
Water levels are currently very low. A combination of the dry season and the Chinese who are refusing to open one of their dams. Bad enough they are ghastly tourists !!! Not doing themselves any favours around here in the PR stakes !!
So we travel by bus to Kraitie and a fairly mind numbing day of school visits and tree planting !! Don’t even ask !!!
Along the way we crossed a dodgy bridge so all had to get off the bus and walk across the bridge so that the bus could cross empty.
Arrive in Kratie and take ferry across to an island for an oxcart ride to the local secondary school to help the kids with their English Class. I was one of several who hung out at the back and waited for it all to end !!
Then into the forest with the local mayor to each plant a tree. This is something called eco-tourism. What will they think of next !!
Then back on the bus for an hours drive to the part of the Mekong inhabited by the last remaining fresh water dolphins since Pol Pot decided to cull them all to provide a source of oil for lubricating something. Yes he was completely bonkers and the dolphin is the black dot in the middle of the river ! Extremely endangered and very elusive !
Then back to the boat for dinner and we set sail downstream towards Phnom Penh.
Another day another Temple ! At this stage I have to confess that I have slightly lost the plot as far as which temple is which. The Khmer Empire celebrated a combination of religions – A combination to Buddhism, Hindu and a smattering of animism and their temple architecture reflects this. The next two are, I think, Mebon and Bantay Srei.
Bantay Srei ???
Then Lunch in a Cambodian Village house prepared by a couple who has been Khmer Rouge soldiers and definitely must have had some stories to tell !!
A brief stop on the way to Roulos to see palm sugar being made.
Roulos Group of Temples
The earliest group of Temples to be built (9th Century) and carved out of red sandstone: We explored two of them.
Another huge temple and the last marathon climb up the steps to the sanctuary at the top. For a nation of little people they built staircases that are both steep and with extremely high steps. My calf muscles are reeling after 3 days of this !
The last temple (for now anyway) so back to the hotel and then out to explore Siem Reap´s night time scene. A very nice Khmer restaurant down an alley way for a couple of beers and delicious fresh spring rolls.
A relatively early night as we leave Siem Reap in the morning to meet up with the Tonle Pandaw which will be home for the next seven nights
Up before dawn when fortunately jetlag was working in my favour. Most of our gang had opted for the tethered balloon and some wimped out. So I entered Ankor Wat on my own, to be greeted with a sea of Chinese with selfie sticks. God they can be obnoxious !! However after a bit of pushing and shoving I managed to get a vantage point and see over the top of them. One of the advantages of being much taller than the average Oriental !! However sunrise was a bit of a damp squid as the photo shows. Sunset would have been much better (front lit) as the photo below (that I didn’t take !) So we can tick that one off the list !!
Made a new friend on the way out before finding the trusty Sam with a Tuk-Tuk to take me back to the hotel for breakfast and a day of temple overload:
Next up is Ankor Thom which the capital of the Khmer Empire in the late 12th century and which makes Ankor Wat seem miniscule in comparison. With an 8 mile long perimeter wall with a wide moat surrounding it, it contains several temples of which the centre piece is the Bayon with 54 Towers bearing more than 200 huge but enigmatic Stone Faces.
Starting at the Terrace of Elephants (all 300m of it !!)
Then through the vastness of Ankor Thom and its ruined temples to The Bayou as a centrepiece.
Next was a “gondola” cruise around the moat
And then a dinner theatre with a display of Aspara dancing girls and boys.
Then back to the hotel bracing ourselves for a 0400 start so see sunrise at Ankor Wat.
While most of the Western world (or at least the USA & UK) are trying to distance themselves from Huawei, I love them !!! They do a USB dongle that will take a SIM Card and providing you can access a 4G mobile phone network gives you internet access. They also do another wonderful little box (Huawei C73D) that with SIM card and 4G access plugs into your PC, and apart from Internet access, also broadcasts Wi-Fi to up to 10 users of phones or tablets etc. The Mekong seems to have 4G, at least on the part that we are on, so hopefully Blogging can resume !!
Just to let you know that I am now happily ensconced on the Tonle Pandaw which will be home for the next week as we cruise down the Mekong to Ho Chi Minh City. Wi-Fi on board is virtually non-existent but will post updates when I can get reception !!
Hopefully Phnom Penh on Wednesday ! Normal service: Blah Blah Blah………….
Built as a Buddhist monastery in the 12th Century AD Ta Prohm is best known for its starring role with Angelina Jolie in Lara Croft – Tomb Raider (it was a movie and video game apparently). The jungle has encroached to such an extent that huge Strangler Fig and Banyan trees have grown up through the ruins and continue to stake their claim to considerable effect both visually and structurally !!
Landmines still play a major part in rural Cambodia as over 40 million of them survived the US and Vietnamese incursions and the ensuing struggles. This local band comprises musicians, all of whom are amputees and the majority of Kmher families have had at least one or more members (excuse the pun) affected. That is apart from the 2 million who were massacred by the Khmer Rouge under the rule of Pol Pot and his cronies !!
Angkor was the ancient capital of the Khmer Empire between AD 800 & 1430 and occupies a vast area of over 200 Sq Km of Northwestern Cambodia. All the original wooden houses and palaces have long since decayed, leaving an incredible array of vast stone temples with the perimeter walls and defences still intact. Ankor contains around 70 temples which can be likened to the skeletal remains of a once immensely powerful civilisation. With all of the timber building having gone, the jungle has taken over and, in many cases smothered the remains, that are contained within the Angkor region. Ankhor (City) Wat (Temple) is the largest religious monument on the planet but is however dwarfed by the adjacent remains of the even larger Ankor Thom which is protected by an 8m high wall which is over 12km long !! The Khmer Empire embraced various religions, mainly Buddhism and Hindu (from India), combined with local customs such as ancestor worship and animalism. What remains of the sandstone “skeleton” scattered throughout the jungle has to be experienced first hand as photos do not come close to describing its scale and grandeur. Whilst Ancient Egypt was several millennia before Ankhor it is nothing on the scale of what remains of the once powerful Khmer Empire. Anyway we start at Ankor Wat so brace yourselves for several days of full-on temple and jungle immersion ………. First a “No Drone” policy..
A team photo and some of the local population….
Needless to say is ALL intricately carved on an immense scale including a 600m long panel of bas relief apsaras (dancing girls) and other embellishments…
The sun set and we headed out for a Cambodian Dinner (think Thai with a slight French influence)
Left home on Tuesday afternoon having dropped the slightly disgruntled “kids” off at the kennels and headed to Heathrow via British Airways and Malaga. Arrived at around 23:00 and checked straight into the Terminal 5 Sofitel. Not before nearly freezing to death on the wrong level before finding the walkway leading straight to reception. Up at 8 the following morning and headed to Terminal 2 to check in with Thai Airways and their very hospitable lounge. 12 hour flight to Bangkok, for a 5 hr layover in Bangkok Airlines not so hospitable lounge, and then a 40 minute flight to Siem Reap, which is a recent addition to Cambodia and has been built to accommodate the huge number of tourists who descend upon the Ankor Temple complex. Checked in to the Victoria Hotel for a quick shower and Thai Beef Salad before heading out for the first of what will eventually be many Temple Explorations.
Hotel very civilised and their courtesy car is a reminder of the French Colonial era which dominated this part of the world for the best part of a century before a series of wars (including of course Vietnam and the ensuing mayhem of civil wars and Pol Pot´s Khmer Rouge and his genocide where 2 million Cambodians were massacred. An era that only came to an end in the nineties so there are still many “scarred” sites and people who I have to say seem to be bouncing back as a result of tourism etc !!
Next up Ankor Wat which is completely mind-blowing in its scale and that of its many neighbours………..