A huge thank you to Antony who emailed me to tell me he’d found the American Ice Cream Parlor and Hamburger Restaurant we’d eaten at on the way from Siem Reap to Phnomn Penh (detailed on this post). It’s in a town called Kompong Thom, around the corner from the Arunras Hotel in the town center.
Leah agreed to the bus journey to PP as it’s cheaper than flying. With the improved roads, it’s also nearer a 5-hour journey and not so bumpy. We took a tuk-tuk to bus station and onto our “luxury” coach which wasn’t any better than the cheaper one I took with Amy last year. Free pastries and water, and a proper western loo on board were good as was the tour guide who pointed out some things we drove past on the way down.
The only real downside were the cramped seats. I guess we were expecting a little more comfort from the top price range out of the possible options ($6, $8 and $11). We stopped after about 2 hours for a 15-min leg-stretch, but unfortunately I don’t know where. [UPDATE: location details here] Just a tiny little town somewhere on National Road 6, with a fantastic American Ice Cream and Burger Bar which I’d recommend to anyone passing through. If their mission statement and guarantee are to be believed, all the “luxury” ice creams and sorbets feature imported ingredients while the Khmer ones are all local. Leah had luxury choc and vanilla, I went for taro and jack fruit. And they were all superb. I’ve never tasted chocolate ice cream quite like their’s before.
Just enough time to eat it and walk back to the bus. I picked up a mango from a street seller as well, for 2000 Real. Likely twice the “local” price, but still only 25p in our money and for the best mango I think I’ve ever tasted. As soon as one seller had jumped to her feet with a cry of “mango, sir?” on her lips, her two neighbours had done the same. Argh. Politeness problem. Do I buy one from each or just change my mind? No. I wanted a mango. So I simply said, “Sorry – she was first!” and the other two women nodded, smiled and sat down again. Wow. How different to the kids selling things in Vietnam! “You buy from her, now you buy from me…”
We arrived in Phnom Penh around 5:30, so made good time. The bus stop is just off the main riverside area, and only a short ride (in fact a short walk) from the guest house we’d decided on – the Nordic House. It’s not too cheap, but closer to the riverside than the Sunday where I stayed last year. It’s just been refurbished and it shows. The bathroom and furniture in the room we chose were sparkling new and we had satellite telly and free internet as long as we stuck within a 20Mb a day download limit and didn’t look at pr0n.
This second-last point may be contended as we racked up 75Mb on the first night alone as Leah uploaded photos to her SnapFish account. Note that no upload restriction was mentioned on their terms. Guess we’ll see what happens. I started a rescue going on my memory card as it hiccupped when I was reading data from it and we stepped out for the evening.
For dinner we wandered down as far as the palace and back up before settling on Cantina. Maybe not the cheapest place, but our bill came to less than ten quid for a shared starter, two huge mains and two drinks. And it was flipping gorgeous. Then back “home” to try and catch up on stuff before a packed day tomorrow!
I was going to post this even before I got the “Where are you? Why haven’t we heard from you in a week?” email from my dad.
We’re in Siem Reap, Cambodia and having a great time. Weather alternates between hot humidity and pouring rain. Travel’s been good, people great, food excellent, accommodation well above acceptable… and tomorrow we jump on a bus at lunchtime bound for Phnom Penh.
Full updates will be put up when I have the time. Simple fact is we’re so busy trying to cram so many things in that getting the posts up is difficult. Wireless access isn’t available where we are now and I don’t trust the machines here to put a USB stick into them with the pre-written documents on. Anti-virus software in cybercafe’s here is pretty much unheard of.
So a long-ish bus ride tomorrow, followed by 2-3 nights in the capital. Our plan after that is to jump on a boat down the Mekong for 3 days/2 nights to Ho Chi Minh city.
I’ve not left yet and I already want to come back!
As I’ve been to Angkor Wat before, I won’t rattle on too much about the place. You’ll find a more complete write-up in an earlier post, so I’ll stick to telling you more about what happened on this particular visit.
The main thing is that we were here in a different season to my last time out. That was May, and it was ridiculously hot and dry. This was July, and it was ridiculously hot and rainy. Leah had picked up in umbrella during our shopping the day before and it was to be tested to its limits today. As we set off in the tuk-tuk (a little late as we were both mysteriously ill very shortly after breakfast), the weather was fine.
As we had our photos taken for our little inkjet-printed day passes ($20), the weather was fine.
As we walked around the first of the ruins, then went on to meet the monkeys, the weather was fine.
As we plodded around the second major set of ruins, the weather was fine.
And then it wasn’t. It turned cloudy as we walked to the lunch area to search for our driver. By the time we reached the tents, the heavens had opened. The were rent asunder as we took seats in a random food place as we couldn’t find the one we were after. The ground went from sand to mud to marsh to rolling, heaving sea in about fifteen minutes.
In the meantime, we had a drink each and fended off a very persistent young girl who wanted us to buy souvenirs from her because she knew the capital of Ethiopia (Addis Ababa, by the way). Thing is, she started cute then rapidly got arsey to the point where all we cared about was getting rid of her. Which is a shame because after she’d stormed off in a right sulk, I realised that actually I did want one of those crappy fridge magnets as I’d promised Andy I’d get one last time I was here. Whoops. Sorry, fella.
Nah. It didn’t. It kept pumelling down. We basically gave in and found the restaurant we were supposed to find our chap at. Annoyingly it was an expensive one and the food wasn’t much cop, either. And our driver had gone AWOL. Eventually, we went searching and found him cowering in his tuk-tuk out the front. We had to wade through foot-deep muddy water to get to him. All good fun.
He drove us round to the jungle areas, which were hugely atmospheric in the rain. By this stage, Leah was “caught in a drizzle” while I was “monsoon victim”. All our kit was in my daybag with the waterproof attachment wrapped thoroughly around it. A good thing, too, as the rain continued to hammer down the entire time we were exploring this segment. I’m not complaining, as it was warm and the photos I got were far different from the ones from last year.
Leah took a tumble and twisted her ankle on some wet stone… and her camera took a whack at the same time. The picture on the back was frozen and it wouldn’t turn off. Oh dear. I popped the battery out, re-inserted it and *phew* it was working again. Her ankle was OK as well. After a day or two. But the camera was fine. No worries.
By the time we met our driver at the opposite side, the rain had actually eased off and he drove us round to Angkor Wat itself. Ignoring cries of “Lonely Planet two dollar!” we made our way to the connecting bridge. Actually, I almost stopped when I heard the two dollar price. That’s cheap. You can tell it’s not tourist season.
The guard on the gate took our passes. Then got out his radio and contacted the front gate. It seems the little drips of water that had gotten onto our passes were enough to make him wonder if we’d faked them. Thing is, if we’d wrapped them in plastic we’d have invalidated them. And it’s kind of hard to keep bits of ink-soaked paper dry in a tropical downpour. Still, we passed the “they aren’t criminals” test and walked through into Angkor Wat proper in the hope that the rain was done for the day.
A lot of work has gone into restoring one of the friezes since last time around, and there are now some proper stairs going up to the summit. This will make for much safer ascents than the original stone. However, all four sides were still roped off and I can only assume this was due to the weather, or to some of the works being done at the top. A shame, but at least I climbed it last time. I don’t think Leah minded too much as she’s not great with heights.
So all in all, a very different visit to last year. We got changed back at the guest house and went into town for dinner on Pub Street. Tonight we opted for World Bar which turned out to be an excellent choice. The food was superb. I had a bacon roll for a starter and a steak for main course. Leah had something with chicken in. We both had fruit spring rolls covered in chocolate for dessert. The whole lot was absolutely amazing and cost about a fiver for us both. Amazing.
Afterwards, we burned off the calories with a walk through the night market, then had a quick beer at the Dead Fish. They’ve gotten rid of the crocodiles, but still have free internet for customers. And after that, another couple of beers at X. A nice bar, really, and a good place to finish our stay in Siem Reap.
Today we crossed the border. The tuk-tuk guy we’d used yesterday picked us up at 9am and drove us to the little visa place a short distance from the border itself. The visa fee is meant to be $20 as stated on posters in the area. I was asked for 1000THB which is $33, but told them we had no Baht and they accepted $30. The excuse from last night was a repeated: “you can pay 1000THB here to get visa right away or go to Bangkok and wait 2-3 days which is more expensive”. Or you can fly into the airport, pay $20 and get it immediately as they don’t try to rip you off.
A bunch of 3 guys were there and relieved we could use dollars as they had no Baht left. One had to get his visa as his Thai one had expired and he couldn’t re-enter the country without exiting first! The tuk-tuk drove us the last half mile or so to the crossing proper where we were “helped” through border control by a Thai with a badge.
On the Cambodian side we were herded onto a “tourist bus” for the 500m drive to the taxi office where we could get a bus ticket for $10 or a taxi ticket for $60. This is a huge increase on recent years, where the taxi fare used to be $25 – and in fact, still is. The remainder is taxes and fees for the monopoly which operates in the area.
Their argument is it stops the old rip-offs that did occur – getting halfway to Siem Reap and then the driver demanding more cash or he’d dump you in the middle of nowhere. Rare, but reported. All drivers now must be licensed and regulated through them. Any problems and the driver can lose his license. They can also lose their license if they’re caught bartering outside of new system. We couldn’t find anyone else to share with (the others who came through were a group of four, and four is the maximum for a taxi) so had to foot the $60 charge between us.
The driver was great. Fast, chatty, friendly and the 2 1/2 hour drive passed quickly. The roads really have improved on what I’d heard about and for the first half or so it was rare to go more than a mile without seeing some kind of roadworks as they continue to be levelled and surfaced.
In Siem Reap, I gave the driver 200 Baht (about three quid) as a tip and he seemed genuinely taken aback. Hey, I don’t even know if he’d get a fare back to the border. Petrol here is about 50p a litre – less than half that in the UK – but this is an enormous amount when the average daily income is less than $1. We had a short tuk-tuk ride to the Bou Savy Guest House where Amy had stayed the last time I was in Siem Reap and settled in to enjoy the aircon.
After a shower and change of clothes (yeah, I know you’re hearing that phrase a lot on this blog – it’s humid over here), we tuk-tuk’d to the Children’s Hospital where I bled down a tube in exchange for a Coke and some iron tablet. As we were there, the first proof of the wet season descended upon us. When it rains here, it really rains! After the torrent finished, we got a lift down to the old market for a quick wander round.
Leah looked at the silks, I stared at the meat and fresh produce section. Great stuff. After a quick wander into some bookstores and a non-haggled $5 purchase of a new Vietnam Lonely Planet from a woman in the street, we settled down at the Temple bar on Pub Street for a drinkie and some food. My pizza was very tasty and Leah made approving noises as she devoured a steak. After a few more beers/vodkas we walked upstairs to watch the free Apsara dancing and supped a couple of cocktails. I recommend the AK-47 with a whopping 5 shots in it… and always available on 2-for-1. Eek.
After the dancing, we trundled over to the X rooftop bar where I let Leah beat me at pool (with our jury-rigged ball system as there aren’t enough for the two tables) and I got talking to a guy from Dorset who kind of arrived here and hasn’t left yet. He’s now working at X for around $10 a day, wondering what to do with himself – but I don’t think his plans will involve moving on any time soon. Apparently I was drunk when Leah instructed me that it was time to head back to the guest house, but I still don’t believe it. I’d only had about 12 beers and 9 shots. And one less pint of blood in my system than usual.