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Siem Reap

25 Apr

After exploring the capital it was time to head off to Siem Reap. Along the way we stopped at a food market where some of the food looked like it belonged on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here – think deep-fried tarantula, cockroaches et al. Luckily I had had a big breakfast so I didn’t need to eat anything. Apparently Cambodians only eat these as a snack with a drink, a bit like a Cambodian tapas. Still probably best to give it a wide berth.


The next stop was a trip to a Silk factory. We learnt all about how the silk is made from the cocoons of the silkworms and how the thread is transformed and woven into silk scarves. It was an interesting story but as my home town is famous for silk it wasn’t anything that was new to me. Having said that it was interesting to see how it works in a completely different country with oodles of heat. They actually wet the silk to prevent it from breaking when weaving. I was also pleased but surprised to her that the women working there get 3 months paid maternity leave which is what women are entitled to in Switzerland!

The next stop was a floating village – a community that lives in boats and lives off the river. We even spotted a school. 

After a long time on the road it was finally time to arrive at the hotel. After food some of us headed to a local bar for drinks. At 1 Dollar for a beer I was not complaining. The bar staff were super friendly. We got caught up in a battle of Connect 4 with one of them. I knew when he offered to play us for drinks that he was Cambodias Grand Connect 4 Master. And he was! The four of us only managed to beat him once and that was with the help of another barman!

The next day we went to see the temples. The first on the agenda was Angkor Wat. This is one of the most famous temples in Cambodia and is on the national flag. Even at 8 in the morning the heat was oppressive and I was beginning to struggle already. The actual building is mind blowing. The intricacy of the carvings is incredible and the building is well preserved. But walking around in the heat was too much for me.

We left this temple to visit the Bayon Temple in Angkor Thom. We explored around and learnt a bit more about he place from our guide. Again, it is incredible to think that this temple was built so long ago with limited technology compared with what capacities technology offers to us today. 

Finally we visited Banteay Srey temple. This was the oldest of the temples we saw and was one of the more beautiful. 

After a rest in the evening we went to a Traditional Cambodian dance show. I won’t say it was like Strictly Come Dancing because it wasn’t but it was interesting to see this style of dance with is similar to Thai dancing. The costumes were colourful and dazzling and the stories behind the dances were, not always clear, but entertaining. 

The next day was an early start and I mean early! 4am to be precise. Today was the day that we would see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Despite the early morning, it didn’t disappoint and was worth skipping s couple of hours kip for. We also climbed to the top of one of the towers that he hadn’t done the day befor because it was too hot to wait in the queue in the heat of the sun. 


After this, and it was still only early now, we went to visit the temple made famous by Lars Croft and The Tomb Raider movie. This temple is a lot different to the other temples in style and also in condition. Large parts of the temple are structurally unsafe and major reconstruction work is underway. 

I went back to the hotel and slept and watched some tv before heading down to the pool for a swim. Imagine my surprise when I realised it was raining. It didn’t put me off, I still went out for a dip in the rain and it was really refreshing.

Later it was time to visit a street food market where we tried some exotic foods. Our guide was keen for us NOT to try the street food as Cambodian street food is not as fresh and clean as in Thailand or Vietnam. I was happy to take his advice.


I was sad to be leaving Siem Reap. I misch preferred it to Phnom Penh. The streets were cleaner and a lot wider than in Phnom Penh which means it didn’t feel as hot in Siem Reap. I still got bitten to death by insects though despite my jungle formula insect repellent…

Off to the Cambodian Capital – Phnom Penh

22 Apr

It was already time to leave Vietnam and head to country number 3 of this trip – Cambodia. I am always a bit nervous about border crossings in developing countries and, after a bit of hopping on and off the bus, we made it through. In terms of transport, we were spoilt – fully air-conditioned and Wifi! Pure luxury!

The majority of the day was travelling in the bus and we arrived at our hotel at around 3. This was enough time to have a quick dip in the roof top pool. Refreshing is not the word. By now it was around 35 degrees and far too hot for my fair and pale skin!

Early afternoon we took a Tuk-Tuk for a city tour and visited a temple called Wat Phnom and the Independence Monument in the main square. It was then time for food, which is obviously the best time of the day. I tried some more of the local food which was nice but is, in general, not as good a quality as the Vietnamese food. Because of the heat and the long drive, it was an early night so that I could be ready for the next day.


The next day was tough because of the heat (it was about 34 degrees at 7.30 in the morning to give you an idea) and because of the subject matter. We learnt about the genocide in Cambodia and the brutal regime of Pol Pot which didn’t end until his death in 1998. Once again this is another period of history I know very little about and I will be looking into on my return home.

In the morning we went to the Killing Fields. This is the place where people would be executed. In total there are 129 mass graves, some of which contain women and children. What were people executed for? Basically anything. The people of Cambodia were so hungry but stealing food or picking fruit from a tree would mean that they were sentenced to death. 86 of the graves have now been excavated and there is a fitting memorial to the victims. You can even leave a flower and incense in memory of the victims. I have said before about my visit to Dachau, outside Munich, the places where these atrocities occur are usually transformed into a peaceful tribute to the victims.

After this visit, we went to S-21 which is where people would be brought to confess their crimes before being sent to the Killing Fields. Some of the details were horrendous. The guide told us that her aunt disappeared one day and no one knows what happened to her. Presumably she is in one of the graves at the Killing Fields. 

After an emotional morning and feeling drained from the heat, I had a nap at the hotel in the afternoon to recover. In the evening we went to see a kickboxing match. The match was televised live on Cambodia and because we were foreigners we had VIP seating right behind the Cambodian Minister of Sport.


The matches were really entertaining but it was a bit like watching a lesser known sport at the Olympics and not really knowing what was going on but enjoying it anyway. 

We saw a total of two knockouts. The atmosphere was electric: completely different to football or rugby but exhilarating. I would recommend watching a match if you have the opportunity. The matches had added spice as they were a Cambodian fighter versus a Thai fighter. Competitive stuff! 

After a few beers, food and 15 minutes of Fame on Cambodia TV, it was time to go back to the hotel to get ready for the next day’s adventure. 

Miss Saigon – Part 2: Exploring

19 Apr

On Tuesday it was an early start as I had a trip to the Mekong River Delta. The Mekong River Delta is called the Nine Dragons because there are 9 rivers that flow into the sea. To get to the Delta, it was a 2 hour bus ride, luckily with air-conditioning!

During the bus ride we stopped at the equivalent of a motorway service station and the guide told me that Vietnamese people don’t like to say toilet so they say they are going to the Happy Place, which is better than the American equivalent of bathroom.

At the Delta we took a boat and visited Coconut Island where the local economy is centred around coconuts. We visited a family who make charcoal from coconut shells. The shells are burnt for about 10 days and then taken out of the kilns to cool and are bagged and sold at local markets. 


We hopped back into the boat and visited another community who break open the coconuts and use the fibres to make door mats. They then sell on the coconut shells to other families who can turn the shells into charcoal. 

We then took a xe-lói which is a bit like a Tuk Tuk to see where they use the stalks of the coconuts to make brooms to use in the house. The women who make the brooms can produce 100 brooms a day. They get paid by how many brooms they produce each day so a lot of women are able to work when their children are at school and earn extra income.

We stopped for a short break at a local orchard and ate some of the seasonal fruit – pomelo, mango, banana and pineapple. Then we went kayaking on the River. I have kayaked a few times before but, even so, I was a bit sceptical about kayaking on this huge river where there was a lot of river traffic but also where the depth could be up to 10 metres. Still it was an enjoyable experience and not as nerve wrecking as I thought it would be. Apart from fish, there are no predators in the water (allegedly).

After that we got onto bicycles (it was beginning to be a bit like a triathlon or multi-event race) and headed to a local house for lunch by the river. 

The lunch was a traditional Vietnamese lunch including Snake head fish which is a member of the catfish family. I have never heard of this fish before but it was delicious. 

We took the bus back to the city after the trip and arrived back in Ho Chi Minh City just before 5. I had a beer in the bar and relaxed. It had been so hot during the day that I was feeling wiped out so I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening relaxing. After some tips from my guide about how to cross the road, I went for a walk around. Crossing the road here is an experience! I worked out that the best thing to do is to wait for a gap in traffic and walk across in a constant and steady space – the bikes will be able to judge the distance that way and end up not hitting you.

The next day I had a half day tour of Saigon which stopped first at the Notre Dame Catherdral and the Central Post Office. I had seen both of these buildings before on the Street Food tour but it was nice to learn a bit more about the buildings and to go inside. The cathedral was built during the time when Vietnam was a French colony and the Post Office was designed by the same man who built the Eiffel Tower.


I also visited the Reunification Palace and toured the Presidential rooms as well as the Bunker and the kitchens. The next stop was the War Renaments Museum which was an eye-opener. I wrote in an earlier post that I didn’t know much about the Vietnam war. In hindsight this was an understatement. The museum provides an excellent insight into the conflict and the aftermath which is still being felt in modern-day Vietnam.


The tour guide told me that his father had his leg blown off in 1986 by a stepping on a landmine while working on the family farm. His uncle saved his life and soon he was back working on the farm with a prosthetic leg. It’s easy to forget that this war was only 40 years ago; the first war that was documented in black and white photographs and later in colour film. There is a really good photography exhibition which documents what actually happened, including some very distressing images. 

Shortly after returned to the hotel and had a nice lunch of Vietnamese prawn pancakes  (basically a bit like a Yorkshire pudding with a prawn in the middle and some herbs). Delicious! I said this to the waiter and he looked at me a bit confused. A few minutes later his friend came up to me and asked what word I had said to him and asked me what it meant. I may have introduced the word Delicious to Southern Vietnam. You heard it here first!


I changed hotels in the afternoon to join up with the group that I will be travelling through Cambodia with. I am looking forward to having some company and visiting my third country in 5 days!

Current insect bite count: 14 😦