Angkor Wat and Temples

4:15 wake up call Dad!

We left at 4:45 to get to Angkor Wat to watch the sunrise. It might just be one of the most incredible things I have seen! A bright orange ball rose up from behind the temple, and flooded the moat with colour. We had a prime viewing spot sitting on the wall in front of the temple. The only minor annoyance were begging children. We had already been asked to not give the children anything to stop encouraging them to beg, so we didn’t. The children however would stand in front of you and say ‘yum yum’ over again! 

With the sun up we had enough light to explore the temple. It was simply amazing! How on earth it was built a thousand years ago is baffling. The detailing in the sandstone, and the perfect symmetry and straight lines they managed during construction is nothing short of miraculous. There were also monkeys all over it. Playing spot the monkey turned into a good game. We also got to stand in the centre of the earth. If you put a compass down, it will read 0°. We also got a great group picture!

We all climbed to the top of one of the temples, purely to look at the view. The steps were more like a ladder going about three storeys straight up! Your knees would have hated you! The view was worth the climb. It overlooked the whole temple, and the surrounding temple area which is about one square mile of trees and hidden treasures.

From Angkor Wat we travelled to Ta Prohm, the temple where they filmed ‘Tomb Raider’. This tomb is literally being reclaimed by the jungle surrounding it. There are trees growing through it. It was one of the coolest places I have been to. We could see the builders working on the restoration too. A large amount of the temple was open, so we were able to really explore the stone and the structure. Honestly dad I could have stayed there for hours, but no time as we were off to our final temple of the day.

This temple was called Bayon, and it is a temple of Budda faces. Everywhere you turned, a Budda’s face would be staring right back at you, smiling. The faces were pretty big and most were still in a good condition. By the time we got to Bayon, the midday heat was breaking though and it was extremely busy. We didn’t stay too long. 

After seven hour of walking and temples we were all exhausted. Our tour was officially over, but !Any of us had booked an extra night. First stop was the pool. Again it was empty. We were the only ones there. Taking a leaf out of your book, I found a comfortable spot and had a nap! Nothing beats sleeping on a sunbed with a slight breeze in 30°c! 

When I eventually woke up the group had decided to all go into Siem Reap centre to have a look around and get something to eat for our last night together. It is such a cool place, busy but not too crazy, and you could cross the road without putting your life on the line. I wish I could stay to explore more really. 

Once back at the hotel after an entertaining tuk tuk ride, we all said our goodbyes. 

Again, this tour has been amazing and the people have really made it. Despite me being the youngest by quite a considerable amount! 

I have kind of been like the child (or grandchild) they left at home…… Particularly as their children were all about my age or older than me. They were all great fun and I really have enjoyed their company over the past few days. 

Well it is time to pack up again. Tomorrow I will be back in Vietnam! Nothing like a 10am flight to get you moving in the morning. 

Oh and by the way Dad, I spoke to Mum today. Apparently a child in Izzy’s class is moving to Africa. Izzy was quite excited he might see me over there. Mum explained to her I am not going to Africa. Her reply -“well she is not going ALL the way around the world then”. Atlas came out, mum explained, but apparently Izzy is not very impressed. Little monkey!

Night Dad x

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Travelling to Siem Reap

Long day Dad, 

As the Mekong water level is low, we had to leave the ship and travel by coach the rest of the way. It took just under six hours, but we did stop along the way. 

First stop was a small local food market. It would have been great if you were interested in eating deep fried tarantula or stuffed frog. Pass. We were also hounded by locals (who I am guessing don’t get many tourists stopping) begging for money. Especially children who would just follow you round saying hello and tugging at your shirt. 

As we got off the coach I took my back pack with me. When I am moving around it basically has my life in it, passport, cash, everything so I do not let it out of my sight. Others however left their bags on the coach. We came back to find the coach door had been left open and the driver had vanished. With the begging surrounding us, we were concerned. Everyone checked there stuff and nothing was missing, but needless to say people were not very impressed. 
Next stop was a small service station for lunch. We must have found the most expensive shop in the whole of Cambodia! Most people just skipped it. I mean $4 for a pack of five cookies, no thanks. 

Just before 2pm we arrived at our hotel.  I can safely say this is a hotel you would approve of Dad! 5*, plenty of sun loungers, a pool about 20m long, a room with a balcony overlooking the pool, and a bar which serves international brand alcohol! I learnt pretty quickly that happy hour was 3-7, and cocktails were 2 for 1! At $5 a cocktail I was laughing!

At the end of the pool stood six of so giant ornamemtal elephants with their trunks in the air. I passed a comment the trunks looked like they had something in them. No one took much notice, until these elephants started spraying the pool from their trunks. Everyone laughed their heads off at these elephants, spraying the whole deep end of the pool. They decided afterwards maybe I was right about the trunks. 

After an afternoon of swimming, drinking and being sprayed we were greeted by our local tour guide. Dinner was at a restaurant called ‘New Hope’ which is a charity helping the poorest families by giving their children a free education and providing them with access to health care and food. The scheme is wonderful. The scheme helps train teens in how to cook and run a kitchen too. The meal was amazing! 

We had to take a tuk tuk to ‘New Hope’, which was terrifying. He drove most of the way on the wrong side of the road dodging cars, coaches and scooters. He swerved in and out, and there were a few moments when we hit a bump in the road we thought we would tip over. Somehow we ended up with the same tuk tuk driver on the way back too. 

Very early night tonight as we are being picked up at 4:45am!!! I really hope the sunrise is worth it.

Bicycles and Sailing

Hey Dad,

To travel to our excursion today we had two choices, take the mini van, or cycle. We were told it was about 4km all on the flat. 

Now I know what your choice would have been, but I took the bike. Sitting on a ship and sailing around chilling out in a hammock with a mojito has been wonderful, but I needed to use the muscles in my legs, and just do some forms of exercise. 

The bike ride was great. There were nine of us that chose to cycle, with four of them being 70+. Two of them however run marathons and are extremely fit. 

The first part of the cycle was through town centre. First rule of being on a Cambodian road…. there are no rules. Seriously Dad, it was just mad. People, cows, mopeds, cows, cars, cows, tuk tuks, going in every direction on any side of the road, with no real method of indication other then honking their horns. After the town we were out on open dirt roads. It was definitely the best way to see the country side. 
Our first bike stop was to a brick making factory. Three people, (one to shovel clay, one to load and one to cut) one machine and 4 bricks at a time. It looked grueling! 

A quick cycle down the road to a pottery studio. When I say studio, I mean a 70 year old lady, working clay by hand into these huge pots. We watched her from start to finish form a pot. Probably not your sort of thing, but I think you would have appreciated how she made it. It was interesting to watch. She formed this whole pot using nothing but her hands and some hand made smoothing tools. No potters wheel, she kept walking round the pot. I felt dizzy watching her. We then found out she sells her pots in the big city’s, but there is a middle man. She earns $0.75 a pot! We were horrified after watching how much work and energy in 30°c heat she has to put in to making a pot. 

On then a short walk across the road to a sugar plant. We got to try sugar wine. It was 75% proof and absolutely vile. Worst thing ever! Then onto a solid sugar , which was very similar to fudge. This elderly man showed us how he extracted the sugar from the tree, by climbing a huge palm tree, walking across a bamboo plank he placed between the trees and coming down the other side with these vials hanging off his shoulders. All in flip flops! 

Back then to the bikes! The initial plan was for the group to cycle in and then swap with other people on the trip for then to cycle back. Most people bailed out. Leaving more bikes then people willing to cycle them back. So I got a round trip cycle ride. By the time I got back to the ship I was a hot sweaty mess! Cycling out at 9am was not too hot. Cycling back in midday heat was quite a bit harder. 

The afternoon was spent on the boat again sailing backwards down the river. The water level is too low for the boat, so we are going back to a previous port where we will be getting on a coach to take us the rest of the way. 

I also commandeered the ship today. With a rum in hand! I think that is as close to pirate as I will get. 

As it is our last night on board, we all dressed up for the captains farewell dinner. We were treated to musical performances from some of the staff. Again, not really your thing, but they were very good. 

Also settled my bar bill. The mojito’s I made myself and for a few other people on board the other night were not on there. I will be remaining silent on this. Especially as the measures of rum I used would make most barmen wince. 

Time to pack I guess. This is always a mission. 

Next stop Siem Reap.

Night Dad x

Temples, teachers, and an Ox…

Hey Dad,

We all had a lie in this morning, breakfast was not until 9am! Meant I got a few early hours in on the sun deck before it got too hot to sit out in. 

Our first trip off the ship took us to a Buddhist temple. We were instantly greeted by dozens of children. Their English was impeccable. They were of course trying to sell us stuff, but to have a fluent conversation with an eleven year old was quite something. 

After looking at the temple, we were taken back to school. We all sat in this classroom, completely open air with a tin roof on it for some sun protection. The teacher was 83 years old and a survivor of the khmer Rouge regime, which we learnt about yesterday at S-21. His story was simply something else. He explained what happened to him, and how he was imprisoned for six years, how he lost his family and how he has rebuilt his life. He now teaches kids extra maths lessons after school for free. He then showed us some maths, which remarkably I followed. The rest of the group seemed quite impressed at my efforts. 

From our maths lesson we went to a silver and copper shop. They have the basic raw materials in a flat sheet and mould it into jewelery and dishes etc. They showed us how they punch intricate designs into the raw material. 

Walking back towards the boat we came across a market stall selling baggy t-shirts. This place is so hot and humid, wearing something baggy is the only way forward. They were charging two for $5. I bought two, and when I got back to the ship, I had three in the carrier bag. Result.  

After an afternoon of sailing, we stopped to see another temple! The most entertaining part however was travelling to the temple by ox cart. It was an experience my spine will be happy to never repeat. I think you would have preferred to just walk dad! 

Once at the temple, we were all asked to sit down. A monk blessed us, and tied a bracelet around our wrist for luck. 

Strangest part of the day however happened at dinner. A group of us were talking about alcohol. One person then asked the question ‘does anyone remember Castlemaine XXXX?’ I said yes I do. I got a few confussed looks, apparently someone my age should not really know that reference. I had to explain I don’t know the drink, but I do know the brand and the logo. More confussed looks. I had to explain about your XXXX jacket. How on earth can I be in Cambodia and be reminded of your jacket?! 

I guess the memory of that jacket will never leave me. 

Night Dad x

S-21 and the Killing Fields

Dad, what a day.

We went to S-21 first today, a prison in Phnom Penh. It was an eye opener. I am sure you knew the full history surrounding it, but I am ashamed to say  my knowledge was lacking slightly. 

My eyes have been opened. I can’t say you would have enjoyed it, it is not a place to enjoy. The atrocity and sadism that went on is unreal. Especially when you think this happened recently in historical terms. Your generation really. The images and sights will stick with me for a very long time. I did not take a single photo, it is not something I need reminding of, I don’t think I will ever loose the image. 

After the prison, we took a coach to the killing fields. This is where the prisoners from S-21 were taken. It was horrific dad. Mass graves. They say that over 8000 bodies have been unearthed, but they know at least 20000 are buried there. With the moat horrific circumstances surrounding their deaths. They had built bridges over the graves, because with earth movements and flooding, bones were zurfacing and people were accidentally standing on them. Walking round you could see bones sticking our of the ground. 

In the centre there was a tall square building which held the uncovered bones. The bones has little coloured stickers on to indicate how they believed this person died. It was enough to make you feel sick.  

The bus ride coming back into town was silent. 

For lunch  (despite the fact no was felt hungry) we were taken to a place called ‘friends and stuff’. A charity that helps poor and unfortunate children by providing then with cooking and hospitality skills. It was great, and the food was wonderful. A definite up lift from the morning. 

After lunch we went to a silk shop. We were all too exhausted (mentally and physically) to do much else so we went back to the ship for the afternoon. 

Our evening entertainment was a group of children from a local orphanage. I read a poster at lunch that said ‘80% of children in orphanages are not orphans’. I am guessing that means they were abandoned. Either way there was this girl performing. Around 9 years old. Big bright eyes. I don’t know what it was, maybe the way she moved, or how she held herself. Maybe her hair flicking down her back, I don’t know – but she reminded me of Becca. If I could have taken her home with me I would have! Life and opportunities around this area seem lacking. 

After the performance I needed a drink. Our bar man Mitch was no where in site so our guide Sarou told me to make it myself. So I did. 

My measurements may be slightly different to Mitch’s, and I did not know my way around his bar, but I made myself a pretty good Mojito. As I was finishing making my drink Mitch turned up and laughed at me. He didn’t see my drink was a quadruple shot. Just as well really. 

The rest of the tour was intrigued with what I was drinking and they all wanted to try it. Mitch was over run with mojito orders and is almost out of mint. – kind of shot myself in the foot there, now I can’t have another. 

With the whole group drinking cocktails, and still getting over our morning, no one really wanted to go out for dinner. So we decided it would be a good idea to order pizza to the boat! Sarou was very confussed, but he sorted out the language barrier for us. Apparently we are the first tour ever to order pizza to the ship.

I have also just been informed it is Mitch’s night off. The replacement bar tender does not speak English or know how to make a mojito. I now have a new job on the ship for the evening! 

One round of mojito’s coming up! – with my measures of course! I am now the new favourite person on the ship….. 

Bar tender drinks for free right?!

Night dad x
*UPDATE*

Pizza arrived…. they may have been an issue with the language barrier. Nine pizzas arrived…. all small. To feed seventeen people. Worked out at like two slices each. Oh well, breakfast should be fun tomorrow! 

Cambodia, Rickshaws and Tuk Tuks

Made it to Cambodia Dad, 

So this morning we woke up at the border. When I say border I mean the ship stopped between two flag poles spaced about two meters apart. I therefore decided we were in international waters, and I was at that moment definitely a pirate! 

We spent the whole day sailing, which was cool. The Cambodian landscape was different to Vietnam. So much more of it was just empty, with no sign of life.

Some of the women decided we should do some stretching exercises, so I of course joined in. It was pretty funny.

The afternoon was spent reading the sequel to the book I read yesterday and laying in the sun. 

We arrived into Phnom Penh late afternoon, and the group was escorted off the boat to a rickshaw waiting for each of us. We were taken on a tour of the city, which was eye opening. The traffic in these cities is amazing to watch, but when you are in the thick of it, with no control, and nothing to protect you, it is a little daunting. The man cycling my rickshaw looked about seventy, with no teeth and his shirt buttoned up wrong. But he did his best to provide me with some commentary along the way. 

Very suddenly, the wind picked up and the sky rolled in. People were running from the water front and grabbing everything they were trying to sell by the road side. Mopeds came flying out from everywhere. The sky turned black. We all prepared to be caught in a horrific downpour, but we somehow managed to avoid it. I could tell it was raining either side of us, and the wind was so strong a huge branch fell from a palm tree. I figured the wind would blow the strom in, but somehow we were spared. 

From the rickshaws we boarded a tuk tuk. It was taking us to what they call a ‘home stay’. We went to a family home, who cooked a local meal for all of us. After we rode out of the centre, over a bridge and through what looked a little like a slum we arrived at this house down a back alley.

It was great Dad, the whole family live in one home, grandparents, all of their children and partners and their children.  In all this family had 30 people in it; with only five bedrooms. The food was great, surprisingly so really. We could not eat it all, and there were 27 of us. We were all outside on a long table with the older children serving us drinks and practicing their English. 

After dinner the youngest children put on a party. The down stairs room (which was set up as a lounge with a bed in it) suddenly had music and disco lights streaming out of it. It was funny, the kids were trying to copy us dancing like lunatics. 

One thing did stop me in my tracks though. The next song one of the kids put on was crazy frog. It reminded me of your damn ringtone i always had to try and set for you everytime you destroyed a phone and needed a new one. Don’t think I have heard that since your phone used to ring constantly. After a second or two it just made me laugh. Stupid frog. 

Back on the ship to be greeted with a freezing cold shower! This afternoon it would have been lovely, but after all the rickshaws and tuk tuks I was filthy! A warm shower to clear the grime would have been nice. 

Oh well. Early night tonight for a busy day tomorrow!

Night Dad x