Koh Kong

Boat to Koh Kong

Our journey around Cambodia was a bit messy as we were making it up on the hoof, and so our next stop, Koh Kong, took us all the way down to the Southern coast. We booked a VIP direct overnight bus from Siem Reap, which we were told would take 12 hours, not too bad. After setting off after midnight, already late, we managed to fold ourselves up into the Cambodian sized sleeping chairs for some sleep. This was harder for Paul, mainly because he was in the aisle seat and was worried he’d fall off the bed at any turn, eek.

At around 8am Paul woke me up to say that the bus had stopped and people were getting off. ‘I don’t care, I’m going back to sleep’ was my grumpy reply. If only. Turns out, they were turfing everyone’s luggage off, and next up it was me. Our ‘direct bus’ actually ended in Phnom Penh, where we were told that in 30 minutes our next ‘direct’ bus to Koh Kong would arrive. It didn’t, and soon enough we were put on a Tuk Tuk and driven to a local station. We were beginning to doubt the existence of this phantom direct bus, and were proved right when the man came back with 2 tickets and said ‘the bus leaves at 10.45’. Two hours wait! I was having none of it – after travelling for as long as we have, you start to get a sense for when you’re getting taken advantage of – so I argued back. After a quick phone call, another bus was located for us. Back on the Tuk Tuk, we were ferried to another station where we were put on the 8.45 bus, it felt like a victory! After driving around the city for approximately 2 hours, seemingly picking up at every and any street corner, we finally left the city. Deep breath required, not so victorious anymore, this was clearly a very local and not VIP bus. Argh.

Quiet Waters Koh Kong is a relatively small seaside town on the edge of the border with Thailand. We came for Koh Kong Island, an island 3 hours from the coast which we had read was as beautiful as the Thai Islands, but undeveloped. It definitely was that. Our little boat was the only one there, and with the exception of some stray dogs, there was no one else about. We were provided with snorkel sets which we tried out, but with nothing but sand to look at, we quickly gave up and relaxed on the beach. Lunch was a brilliant fresh barbeque cooked by our guides; three whole fish, with heads, were presented on the table. Not something I’d usually order, but great to try. Our trip back was broken up by a visit to a mangrove farm, after which we were dropped off back at the port. A very nice, chilled out day – definitely needed after the stress of the bus journey down.

Hearing that we were heading to Thailand the next day, the owner of the tour company sat down and went through all of the transport options, outlining the fair prices we should pay. Great! We thought, this’ll make life easier tomorrow. Not so. The journey to Koh Chang (a Thai Island and our next destination) was made up of a Tuk Tuk – mini van – pick-up truck/taxi – ferry – pick-up truck/taxi. It started off well, with the first two matching our expected prices. However, when sitting at Trin Station, the price quoted for our next leg was nearly double what we’d been advised. Thinking he was playing the negotiating game, we refused. He drove off. Hmm, we had a ferry to catch, and now no way of getting there. After stubbornly sitting there for 30 mins, we relented and paid what we believed to be an inflated price. The taxi dropped us off at a shop where we were directed to buy ferry tickets, the price offered again was far higher. Determined not to be ripped off twice, we tried to negotiate, and failed. Last resort, we decided to walk to the pier and buy the tickets direct, thinking we’d avoid the middle man fee. Lugging our massive bags in the midday Thai heat, we preceded to walk up to and along the entirely wrong pier, only to have to walk back with our tails between our legs and buy the tickets at the original price. But only one way! (convinced we were still getting ripped off, actually we weren’t).

Watching The Waters Go By A little ragged and tired, we eventually made it onto the ferry and decided to treat ourselves to a beer. Taking in the views, we started to relax, our destination in sight. Arriving on Koh Chang, there was a collection of taxis waiting. We then realised we didn’t have enough to pay the fare. We tried negotiating, but it seemed that Thais don’t negotiate, they don’t need to. For the second time that day, we watched our only form of transport drive off without us. The port was absolutely deserted, no cash machines, hardly any people. Oh dear, we shouldn’t have got that beer. Fortunately, after sitting around feeling a bit sorry for ourselves for 15 minutes, I met a lovely taxi driver who took us to another, busier, port for free, where another kind traveller agreed to lend us the money needed. After what felt like the longest journey, we finally made it to our final destination, Lonely Beach. What a day!

Siem Reap

Temples Galore

North Cambodia, home to Siem Reap and the Angkor region with its famous temples (one was used in the Tomb Raider movie, bad film fact!). I’m not going to lie, I’m really bored of temples, Buddhas and the same tourist attractions over and over – we tend to skip past temples now as they all look the same and there’s plenty more ahead in Thailand.

Arriving in the city, we knew there would be plenty to see and do at night, it has a very active night life including a street called ‘Pub Street’ with large neon signs directing the way, which gave it a tacky Spanish island feel. The food was once again superb, plenty of choice both western (Pizza!) and lovely Cambodian rice based dishes.

One evening we left a restaurant trying to avoid one of the many beggars around but couldn’t miss the fact she had a thin looking baby in her arms. She said to us “I don’t want money, just milk for my baby” I brushed her off and walked on with it playing on my mind. Annie also heard it, asking if we should get her the milk she wanted. I said I’m sure it’s not right but for all it costs, why not. The begger had already walked away so we headed in to the 7-11 and looked at little fresh milk cartons in the fridge (naive we were). Picking out what we thought would be normal full fat and water for ourselves, we turned to see a little street kid race in with two Aussie backpackers on toe. He walked them right up to the $8 power milk cans and took it to counter. At this point it was an obvious scam, there was a queue and another few people said to the girls they had heard it was a scam, but the girls went on to buy not one but two cans of milk, we put our 50c carton back and left with water. Outside we were crossing the street when I saw one of the street kids dancing back up to the mother outside the store, shopping bag containing a milk can in hand. She clocked me looking in utter disgust, told him to hide it in the corner; it was obviously about to be returned to the shop for a refund before hitting up more tourists. Sad that she’s using her baby for what is probably quite a profitable scam, and FU to the 7-11 staff who are obviously on it, likely taking a cut on the refund. I wish I thought to open/deface the milk cans after purchase, making them useless for resale.

Private cinema in Canbodia, projector, comfy couch and popcorn, lovely.In a small shopping centre we saw a sign for ‘Tourist Cinema’, which turned out to be a little cinema showing all the latest pirate release. We decided to catch American Hustle, for $5 each – which is actually more than a legit cinema would charge over here, you get taken to a private room which has a couch, projector, decent sound system and a DVD player, after being in cinemas with assholes talking, it was a nice change to have it all to yourself, apart from Annie nattering away a bit…

Up at 4am, we booked a TukTuk driver to take us along to the main attraction around here, Angkor Wat which was located 5k away. In order to catch Sunrise we set off at 5am and didn’t think how dark, very dark it would be out there. At the drop off we started following the shadows of the people using the phone as a light source to avoid walking in to all sorts of rocks and rivers. Annie used her giraffe like legs to spring up on to the ledge of a temple to find a viewpoint, I fumbled up, scraping the side of my knee before falling back and realising there’s are steps just a few meters along, stupid darkness.

Sunrise was gradual, due to it being overcast, this left our photos being a bit drab but meant the rest of the morning was cooler than it would be normally. Arriving early gave us time to explore the main temple and some of the nearby temples before the crowds of tourist buses arrived, and boy did they arrive. Our driver reminded us that it was ‘International Women’s Day’ (a fact I was already aware of, thanks to Annie!) and therefore it was busier than normal.

The temples are rather far apart, when paying to get in you are given the option of one, three or seven day passes. Although its big, I can’t understand what the heck people do for seven days, each to their own I guess. We were happy with one day and with the help of our driver saw about four temples and enjoyed it. But early afternoon the sun was out baking everyone outside shade, the temples were swarming with tourists and the roads were jammed with TukTuk’s and busses – time to head back to the guesthouse for sure.

Phare in Full MotionOne final thing we caught in Siem was Phare, the Cambodian Circus. I saw a flyer for this back in Phnom Penh and was curious to catch it. The circus is all human, no animals being mistreated here, performing acrobatic skills along to a story which to be honest was lost on me. All the performers attend a local school formed by refugees from the Khmer Rouge regime, proceeds from the performances go directly back to funding this, seemed rude not to go along. It was absolutely stunning, all the performers showed amazing skill, the same standard as I’ve seen at Cirque Du Soleil in Vegas but with tons of smiles, they all appeared to be enjoying it as much as we did in the audience.

Another great stop in Cambodia.

Phnom Penh

SunsetArriving by boat in Cambodia, we had little knowledge of the country and what was on offer. The city of Phnom Penh was full of Tuk Tuk drivers wanting to drive you around the sights and no doubt their friends’ shops selling tourist tat, thanks but no thanks!

Two of the main attractions are about the reign of the Khmer Rouge from 1975-79 and Pol Pot’s horrific acts of genocide. A section of the Genocide museum back in Mexico city covered this but to be honest after spending about the hours in there I was physically and emotionally drained and barely took any of it in.

With our trusty guidebook we headed to the “Toul Sleng Museum”, which was called Security Prison S-21 during the reign of the Khmer Rogue and the evil dictator Pol Pot from 1975 to 1979. This former school was transformed in to a horrible set of tiny cells and torture rooms. These were used against anyone suspected to be against the Khmer Rouge, which included politicians, teachers, professionals and anyone with “soft hands”, yikes! Every single one of the 17,000 people detained here was photographed, documented, before they ended up at the Killing Fields.

Baby Killing TreeLeaving S-21, we headed down to the Killing Fields 14k outside the city. A large mass cemetery where the KR brutally murdered the Cambodians. A really well done audio tour is provided, allowing you to walk around taking your time in what is now a nice and peaceful garden, listening to first hand stories on what happened only 35 years ago. One horrible aspect of the KR is how they not only killed who they deemed against them, but also their full family including children to avoid any revenge attack. The “baby killing tree” and nearby mass grave sent shivers up my spine. The central shrine holds an eery collection of bones and skulls sorted by how they were killed.

At the end the KR killed three million Cambodians like this, a massive amount of the total population of ten million. Many of those responsible are still being tried.

Spending a few more days around the rest of the city, we found the Cambodians to be friendly warm people. Plenty of great places to eat and drink, beer was still ├╝ber cheap and the food was amazing.

I was interested in going to the theme park that we walked past until I read Trip Advisor and the stories of people falling out of the rides, the body being moved the the ride reopening that same day, eh no thanks!