A Travellerspoint blog

Siem Reap and the Temples of Angkor

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Now I’m not a massive fan of temples, or walking around in the heat of the Cambodian sun, but our trip to Siem Reap and the Temples of Angkor was pretty good and definitely worthwhile.

By the time our bus got into Siem Reap and we’d checked into our guesthouse it was late afternoon, so we just relaxed for a bit, got some dinner and then went to bed. We needed an early night as we’d arranged for a tuk-tuk to pick us up at 5am so we could see the sunrise at Angkor Wat – the biggest temple in Angkor and the world’s largest religious building.

Day 1:

At 5am we were picked up by our tuk-tuk driver and taken to the checkpoint where you buy your day pass to visit the temples, then we headed straight to Angkor Wat. The closest temple is a 15 minute drive out of town, and the rest of them are quite spread out, so the best way to get around is to hire a tuk-tuk for a day to take you on a tour. Our driver told us the best place to stand to see the sunrise is by the pond in front of the temple so you can get a nice picture of the temple and its reflection in the lake. Unfortunately there were too many people already standing there when we arrived so we sat a little further back on some steps. We waited, it started to get a little lighter – nothing too spectacular. We waited some more, we got bored, we went to get breakfast. When we were done eating the sun had risen a bit higher and the people by the pond had moved on so we managed to get a nice picture:


So was it worth getting up at 4:30am? Yes – but only because it meant we had a good few hours of temple viewing before it got really hot!

After taking some more photos we went in to explore the temple and its grounds but then disaster struck! Stephen jumped over a large step through a doorway – I was just about to tell him to be careful or he’d hurt himself – and on landing his foot got stuck in a crack in the stones. He twisted a bit and then fell over. He couldn’t really walk when he stood up so we went to sit on a wall to let his foot rest. This is when a second (less-serious) disaster happened – a monkey came along and stole my left over breakfast from me while I wasn’t looking! Everyone found this very funny!

Naughty monkey!

Stephen was really in a lot of pain and it took us a long while to get him back to the tuk-tuk. He decided he wanted to see the other two temples we had planned to see though, so we then went to visit Bayon (a temple with many carvings of faces) and Ta Prohm (a temple which has been pretty destroyed by nature and where scenes from Tomb Raider were filmed)


Ta Prohm

Stephen could hardly walk by the time we got back at lunchtime, and his foot was very swollen so we took a trip to Royal Angkor International Hospital, which was both amusing and expensive! Three hours later he emerged with a diagnosis of a sprained foot, the world’s most expensive ankle support and crutches, and a lot of paperwork to send the insurance company.

We’d had enough excitement for one afternoon so we didn’t do anything too taxing for the rest of the day. We went to ‘Pub Street’ for some dinner and drinks before going to bed in our lovely air conditioned room (we don’t pay for the luxury of air con most of the time!).

Day 2:

We had a lovely day of doing nothing today. We got up late, had lunch, then headed to the guesthouse next door which had a nice pool we could use for $3.


We had dinner on Pub Street again then went to a rooftop bar called X Bar that looked over the centre of Siem Reap. When Stephen won our game of pool, a small Cambodian lady challenged him to a game. She was surprisingly good and won, but it was close!

Day 3:

It was time for another day of temples. Stephen said he would be ok hobbling along, so we got up at 5am again and headed for a temple 40km out of town called Banteay Srei .This one was very pretty and made of red sandstone, so it looked almost pink. The carvings were really intricate and in very good condition, despite many of them not being restored.

Carvings at Banteay Srei

On our way back to see some other temples we stopped at the Landmine Museum. It’s a small museum set up by a guy who has single-handedly cleared hundreds of landmines from Cambodia. He did have very unorthodox methods of doing this (there were some pretty scary photos), but he now has to abide by very strict international regulations and procedures. It was interesting and very shocking to see how many landmines had been laid in Cambodia – many of them by the US – and to find out that many people are still dying and getting injured by these and other unexploded bombs.

I can’t remember the names of the other temples we visited on this day, but here are some photos:




This one looked very dodgy and like it could fall on someone's head at any minute!

Our tuk-tuk ride back to Siem Reap was an interesting one for several reasons: Firstly, we saw two motorbikes, each one with a dead pig strapped to the back:

Apologies for the poor quality, it was quite zoomed in!

Secondly, we ran out of petrol after stopping at some busy traffic lights and had to be pushed to a side street where our driver could buy some more. Thirdly, all the traffic was stopped (twice) while lots of police, army and big blacked out cars and minibuses drove by. We found out that this had been the Chinese president and a load of other Chinese and Cambodian government officials!

Chinese President's car!

We had noticed that there were lots of Chinese flags, big banners saying ‘Long Live the People’s Republic of China’ and billboards like this one everywhere in Siem Reap:


We thought people in Cambodia just loved the Chinese, but I guess it made sense that all this stuff was only there on a temporary basis as there was a state visit to Cambodia of the Chinese president. But is all this fanfare normal? It seemed a bit odd; they must really want to be in China’s good books!

In the evening we just did the usual dinner and drinks on Pub Street, then went back to our guesthouse to pack for our flight to Sihanoukville the next day. We decided to splash out and book a flight because it only takes 45 minutes by plane, but 13 hours by bus! I really couldn’t handle another long bus journey again so soon!

Posted by charlotter45 01:37 Archived in Cambodia Tagged temples pool bar hospital Comments (0)

Phnom Penh

Discovering the horrors of Cambodia's past

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Our first stop in Cambodia was its capital, Phnom Penh. I really had no idea what to expect from this city but I was pleasantly surprised. There was lots to do and many nice restaurants and bars, so we had a good couple of days.

Day 1:

We travelled from Don Det to Phnom Penh on the same bus as Marita and Zwen (another horrendous 13 hour bus journey!) so we made plans to spend our first day in Phnom Penh together as they were leaving for Sihanoukville the next day. We decided to spend the day visiting the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Phnom Penh Killing Fields to discover a bit more about the Khmer Rouge's rule over Cambodia. I really didn't know much about this beforehand, and what I discovered was shocking. I won't go into all the details, but I just can't believe that nearly 3 million Cambodians (out of a population of 8 million) lost their lives over only 3 years and Britain, the US and the rest of the Western world did nothing and this was all only 30 years ago! What's worse is the people responsible for this have not been prosecuted and are free men and women!

The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is situated inside one of the biggest prisons used by the Khmer Rouge to torture their victims. It was formally a school, but the Khmer Rouge closed all schools during their reign and turned them into prisons. The museum contained lots of information on what was happening at the time and parts of it were preserved to show the prison cells and torture instruments. I think the saddest part was seeing the pictures of all the inmates - just rows and rows of them.


After the museum we got a tuk-tuk to the killing fields. This is where the prisoners were transported after they had 'confessed' to whatever crime the Khmer Rouge decided they had committed. Once they were there, they were killed and slung into mass graves. Twenty thousand people were killed at the site outside Phnom Penh and there were empty holes everywhere where the graves had been. Even now you could still see bones, teeth and clothes sticking out of the ground as these keep being uncovered all the time when the rain washes away some more soil.

Memorial building at the Phnom Penh Killing Fields

It was so sad seeing all this, but also encouraging to see that the country has obviously come such a long way in 30 years.

We were a bit sad and depressed after this tough day, so when we got back we decided to just eat dinner at our guesthouse and stay there for the evening.Our guesthouse was really nice and run by English people! It had some pretty cool paintings on the walls:


Day 2:

We had a less depressing day today, starting off at the Russian Market. This market sells lots of designer clothes that are made in Cambodian and Vietnamese factories. Most of these are probably either stolen or ones that failed to meet quality control standards. It was funny though because they didn't seem to know the difference between high-street and designer clothes - selling Primark and H&M dresses for the same price as Abercrombie and Ralph Lauren clothes!

Next up after the market was the palace of the King of Cambodia - unfortunately we couldn't actually go in because I was 'inappropriately dressed'! Oops! But we took a picture of the entrance:


After that let down we headed to the National Museum which mainly contained lots of bits of stone and other artefacts from the temples of Ankor, which we were visiting in a few days anyway, but it was fairly interesting and killed some time.

National Museum

In the afternoon we did some more shopping at a mall and the Central Market, and in the evening we had dinner and drinks by the river.

Two days seems like quite a short amount of time to spend in a capital city, but it was enough time to fit everything in and it was good to break up the journey to Siem Reap, our next stop.

Posted by charlotter45 22:07 Archived in Cambodia Tagged bus palace museum genocide Comments (0)

Life in the slow lane

Relaxing on Don Det, 4000 Islands

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I'm not going to do a day by day account of our time on Don Det, because we've done nothing very interesting, even though we ended up staying longer than any other place! So here is a very brief account of our time in paradise:

Don Det is one of the '4000' Islands (if you count random rocks and trees!) in the Mekong on the border between Laos and Cambodia. It's quite a small island, maybe 2.5km long and 1km wide. The best way to get around it is to cycle. We were told that of the 3 main islands you can visit, Don Det is the 'party' island where all the backpackers go. There are quite a lot of backpackers, but it's so chilled out you can't really call it a party island!

Beautiful Don Det

There are no roads, just small sand tracks, and most of the accommodation on offer consists of bungalows with a balcony overlooking the river (with hammocks!) - it really is heaven on earth and we didn't want to leave! We spent most of our time with Marita and Zwen - it was really nice to have some company for a change :)

The balcony of our bungalow

There's a bridge connecting Don Det to Don Khon, so we cycled over there and explored that one day. While we were there we got a boat out to the Cambodian border to see the rare irrawaddy dolphins that live there during the dry season - we really didn't expect to see any as there are only 60 left in the wild, but we saw 5!

Me cycling - something I haven't done since I was very little!

We spent a lot of time at an organic farm and restaurant on Don Det called the Veggie Patch, which is owned by French/Australian couple, drinking fruit shakes and playing Boules (the guy who runs it taught us the proper French rules!)

Veggie Patch

Stephen, Zwen and Marita did a kayaking trip one day but I just stayed at the bungalow reading in the hammock as kayaking isn't really my thing, but I did really enjoyed just doing nothing for a change.

After 4 glorious days of relaxation, we were very sad when we had to leave and do the 12 hour bus journey to Phnom Penh (the capital of Cambodia), but if we didn't leave then I think we would have just stayed for weeks!

Posted by charlotter45 01:49 Archived in Laos Tagged river hammock kayak bungalow Comments (2)


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Soon after arriving in Pakse (after our horrendous bus journey from Vientiane!) we discovered that there was virtually nothing to do in the town itself, but we did find enough things to do just outside it to fill up a couple of days.

Day 1:

We arrived at our hostel early, checked in and had breakfast. While we were eating, a tuk-tuk driver approached us and asked if we wanted to go to the temple in Champasak as there was a group of 5 people already going so it would be cheaper if we went as well. We had a quick look on Wikitravel to find out whether it was worth going and it turns out it’s a stone temple, of the same kind of architecture and era as Ankor Wat in Cambodia, and one of the best examples of this type of temple in the world (second only to Ankor Wat) – so we decided we should go.

It was a long and bumpy tuk-tuk ride there and it rained all the way, but luckily when we arrived the sun was shining! It was pretty interesting exploring the site and the temple, but also hard work as there were lots of uneven stone stairs to climb!

Wat Phou

We didn’t really do much in the afternoon, just had a wander around the town and had some dinner at an Indian restaurant. You may think we seem like we eat non-local food too much, but the food in Laos really isn’t all that! They don’t have many speciality dishes and the ‘Laos food’ section of the menu always consists of only 3 or 4 dishes, which we have already tried. Maybe when we arrive in Cambodia the local food will be nicer!

We had booked a two-day jungle zip-lining experience while we were in Vientiane, for us to do in Pakse, and we were really looking forward to it, but we could only afford to go if 4 or more people had signed up. They told us that we could have our money back if no more people signed up, so we headed to the tour office in the evening to find our whether we would be doing it the next day. Unfortunately, no one else had wanted to do it so we needed to get a refund (which proved to be difficult, but argued our case in the end!) as we couldn’t really afford to pay an extra $100 each to do it as a group of only 2. It was very disappointing as we’d wanted to do this for a long time now and it was the only reason we’d made the journey down to Pakse!

Day 2:

As we now had some time and money spare, we decided to book onto a one day tour of the Bolaven Plateau near Pakse. It’s a protected area with lots of waterfalls, coffee and tea plantations and ethnic minority villages. Most people rent a motorbike and tour the area on their own for 2 or 3 days, but as there’s no way Stephen could convince me to ride a motorbike, we decided a minibus tour was the next best thing!

It was a really good, full day where we did lots of different things and we really enjoyed it. We saw a couple of impressive waterfalls (one was 200m tall), visited a coffee and a tea plantation, explored a couple of ethnic minority villages and visited a primary school.

Tad Lo Waterfall

In our hostel you had to pay for the Wi-Fi and this money was used to help a local school. This was the school we visited on the trip and it was really good to see where the money was going. They’d built a nice new building and the school now has 15 teachers (it previously only had 2), and they were close to completing a toilet block for the children as I don’t think they had toilets before.

After the school we visited some villages and it was so strange to see a completely different way of life. They were sort of tribes – believing in animal sacrifice for certain things, spirits and things like that, but then they also had lots of modern technology and seemed to spend most of their time watching Thai soaps on TV! Their houses were very basic and up to 70 people could live inside one. The children got married between the ages of 5 and 10 and men could have up to 4 wives - it was all so strange! I felt very sorry for the women in these villages - they did absolutely everything – and the men just sat around listening to music, smoking and drinking all day!

The houses didn't look very sturdy!

When we arrived back at our hostel, I heard someone call my name from the room next door to ours as we walked past. It was Marita and Zwen, the German couple we met in Luang Prabang! We had known we would probably be in 4000 Islands at the same time as them, but it was a nice surprise to be staying the same place in Pakse :) They were also planning to leave for 4000 Islands the following day, so we booked on the same bus and then had some drinks together in the evening.

Posted by charlotter45 21:41 Archived in Laos Tagged temple village waterfall tribe Comments (0)

I just came to say... SABAIDEE!

Vang Vieng and Vientiane

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I had mixed thoughts about Vang Vieng before we stayed here, I'd heard a lot of good and a lot of bad things and wasn't sure if I'd like the proper party backpacker scene. But having now been there and done it, I have to say Vang Vieng was a pretty cool place with more to it than just tubing (as fun as it was!). The only downside was the terrible food!

Vang Vieng - Day 1:

We arrived in Vang Vieng quite late in the afternoon after the 7 hour bus ride from Luang Prabang, checked into our guesthouse and went on a wander around the town. It's small, taking only about 5 minutes to walk from one end to the other, and it feels a lot like a spanish holiday resort. There are lots of bars and restaurants selling western food showing episodes of Friends and Family Guy on repeat! But what makes this place special is its surroundings. Everywhere you look, 360 degrees, there are amazing lush green mountains (Stephen says they're called karst). I've never seen anything like it!

An example of the scenery

After dinner overlooking the river we headed to one of the bars on the party island called Bucket Bar (so called because pretty much all they sell are buckets of 'cocktail'). Before 11pm they are give away free buckets, and you only need one because they contain a third of a bottle of whiskey! We didn't stay long, it's the kind of place you go once you're already drunk from a day's tubing on the river.

Vang Vieng - Day 2:

We decided to go and check out the biggest cave in the area today. The plan was to rent a moped and get there that way, but unfortunately we didn't really have time to practice riding it and the road was pretty bumpy so we just gave up! It was a 7km walk and the guesthouse owner advised us not to do it, but it was fine (if not a little hot and sweaty!), and the views were amazing.

Happy on our walk

When we finally got there we had a swim in the lovely blue lagoon outside the cave and relaxed in one of the straw-roofed huts that were around. When it came to going inside the cave I chickened out, but Stephen said it was really massive and interesting. Lots of stalactites and stalagmites and bits of gold and silver on the ceiling.

Inside the cave

Vang Vieng - Day 3:

Today was tubing day! For those of you reading who do not know: lots of backpackers go to Vang Vieng, rent an inner tube of a tractor tyre and go floating down the Nam Song river on it, stopping along at the numerous bars on the way, and getting very drunk in the process. Many people now don't bother with the tube and just go to the bars, but as it was our first time we decided to do it properly.

We bumped into some people we met on the slow boat to Luang Prabang at the first bar and so hung out with them for the day, played of drinking games and generally just had fun. There are lots of rope swings and zip lines from the bars into the river but I was too scared to go on these, but Stephen had a go and said they were fun! You had to get your tubes back by 6pm or face a 20,000 kip fine (sounds alot, but that's £1.60) so we did leave the bars fairly early but gave up, got out and got a tuk-tuk halfway down the river when we realised it was gone 6pm and we were no where near the end point!

'Tune the Bucket Kitten' - some staff at the bar had rescued a kitten and were keeping it in a bucket on the bar!

Me in my tube

View from one of the bars

In our tubing gear - I bought the shorts and t-shirt that everyone seemed to be wearing!

The bars along the river all played really loud music and at one of the bars they were playing that 'I just came to say hello' song, but every time it came to the 'hello' bit the DJ shouted 'SABAIDEE' (hello in Lao) - so that's where the title of this entry comes from!

In the evening we ventured to the party island again to get our free bucket and enjoyed it a lot more this time (I wonder why?!)

Vang Vieng - Day 4:

We had planned to leave Vang Vieng today but decided we would stay another two days - one more day at the cave and lagoon (by tuk-tuk this time though!) and one more day tubing (but without the tube).

So, another lovely day was had at the lagoon - sunbathing and swimming :)

In the evening we booked our bus to Vientiane but then decided an hour later that we would change it to the next day and not go tubing again - I just didn't want a massive hangover on the 9am bus!!

Vientiane - Day 1:

See the itinerary of this trip, and details about each destination.

The bus to Vientiane was very bumpy as it wasn't a proper road so I'm pretty glad we weren't doing the journey after a full day of drinking! We arrive in Vientiane, find the guesthouse we wanted to stay at and got a room. We find out there's really not a lot to do, even though it's the capital city, so just chill out for the evening and book our bus to Pakse for the next day.

Vientiane - Day 2:

Our overnight 'VIP sleeper bus' is at 7pm so we have the day free to try and find some things to do. We decided to get a local bus to the 'Buddha Park' about 20km away from the city. We weren't really sure what it was but turns out it's just lots of of crumbling buddha statues. It was a bit of a let down really as people had told us it was a good thing to do, but at least the local bus there on the bumpy dirt road for an experience!

The Buddha Park

While we were having dinner before our bus we could hear some loud music coming from the river front so decided to go and check it out - there were loads of women (and men!) doing an outdoor aerobics class! It looked funny, but unfortunately we couldn't join in as we had to get back to our guesthouse in time for the bus.

Aerobics by the Mekong

We got picked up by a minibus that took us to the bus station where we got our sleeper bus. It was all very funny at first, little beds on a bus! Then we realised these tiny beds were for two people to share and ours wasn't even long enough for me, let alone Stephen! So, we had the most uncomfortable night's 'sleep' ever and arrived in Pakse 11 hours later!

The sleeper bus

Posted by charlotter45 04:24 Archived in Laos Tagged landscapes caves laos party buddha lagoon tubing Comments (2)

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