What a fantastic week! Both Battambang and Siem Reap were good to us, full of touristy adventures.
1/11 Monday Getting up early enough to catch the bus was a bit of a challenge, but we managed. We even had enough extra time in town before the bus left to exchange Craig’s new MP3 player for one that worked, and to buy some tasty snacks for the journey. The trip was uneventful, characterized by long rest breaks in roadside restaurants with squat toilets, and many stops to pick up passengers from the side of the road. One guy, who sat in the aisle on a plastic stool, was carrying a puppy in a plastic bag.
On arriving in Battambang, the bus was thronged by touts and tuktuk drivers, vainly trying to get our custom. Craig noticed that the only other Westerner on the bus was also disembarking, and figured he’d be more organized than us, and asked where he was headed. We ended up sharing his tuktuk to the hotel he’d booked, and all three of us agreed to go on a tuktuk tour the next day.
Craig and I went for a short walk around town then had dinner in our hotel’s rooftop bar before turning in for the night.
2/11 Tuesday We started our tour a bit later than I would have liked, because our tuktuk driver, Coco, is still studying at university, and had a class in the morning. The sleep-in was nice though! We started with a ride on the bamboo train, a fantastic method of transport that the locals use for transporting goods. It’s a single-line track, so trains going in both directions have to navigate around each other – the drivers just take one of the trains apart and reassemble it. Since one train consists of two wheel axles and a bamboo platform, this isn’t too difficult!
We also went to Cambodia’s first and only winery, a Hindu temple at the top of a hill, and a cave that was used for the disposal of bodies during the Khmer Rouge regime. Quite a varied day, really! Coco was an excellent guide and our new acquaintance David was good company – a definite winner of a day.
3/11 Wednesday We had a very early start to catch the boat to Siem Reap at 7am (7am! Who thought that was even a time of day!). The trip was awesome, if a little long: about seven hours from start to finish. We had several stops along the way to buy food and drink or to drop passengers off at their floating homes – it was interesting to see other floating villages after visiting the one in Lake Titicaca.
The tuktuk ride into Siem Reap from the port was also longer than I expected (about 30 minutes) but cheap ($1). We found a hotel and got a bit of work done, then headed out for tacos for dinner. On the way home, we met up with Craig’s ex-workmate Tina and her husband Matt, and had a few beers with them while sharing travel stories and planning what to to together the next day.
4/11 Thursday We met Tina and Matt for breakfast at the civilised hour of 10.30, then went to see the Artisans d’Angkor factory. They employ a lot of disabled people, and train them in traditional crafts. It was amazing to learn how long it takes to make some of the things you see for sale! Later we took the free shuttle bus to the silk factory, which was a similarly enlightening experience.
We ate outside at a BBQ stall which had fruits and vegetables on display and reminded me of Cusco’s juice stands, then wandered around the night market. Matt decided to get a shave – and since he has a full beard this was a big decision! The rest of us tried ear candling, which was all right but nothing to write home about. It was a nice end to a fun day, though.
5/11 Friday Temple day! We contracted the driver Tina and Matt had used ($10 for the full day) and headed off to the temples. First he took us to the ticket office to buy our passes, then we went to Angkor Wat. At the gate, we let a guide convince us to hire him for a tour, which was interesting but not fantastic – we went back in after a coffee and enjoyed wandering around by ourselves more than we’d enjoyed the tour – but maybe the coffee had a lot to do with that!
All of the temples we saw today (Angkor Wat, the Angkor Thom complex, Ta Phrom and Ta Keo) were amazing. They were all in different states of preservation, and featured different architectural elements and decorations. I can imagine spending a lot of time exploring them in detail, but for now just a day was enough. We finished the day with an excellent dinner at Khmer Restaurant (one of the few in Siem Reap that’s owned by Khmers, apparently) – fresh spring rolls, fish amok, and chicken curry and steamed rice. And beer of course.
6/11 Saturday We’d been planning to head north to Laos next, but we realised it would be easier to go west to Bangkok and do a circle up through Chiang Mai, across to Laos and back around to Bangkok. And it helps that our friends at Stray have just started running exactly this tour … the tour starts on Tuesday, so we decided to spend a couple of extra days here in Siem Reap and head to Bangkok on Monday. And after yesterday’s busyness we stayed in and tried to get some work done.
7/11 Sunday Another relaxing day. We stayed in bed until quite late, I mostly chatted with South Americans while Craig listened to his ebook. We spent the afternoon working, and finally got around to buying tickets to Bangkok. Onwards to Thailand!
In other news, we were honoured to be the first interviewees in a new podcast, KiwiNation, which features “conversations with inspirational New Zealanders”. Awesome.