After getting married in September 2010 we decided to do the opposite of settling down; so we packed up our life, stuffed it in our parent's attic and hit the road for what is essentially an extended honeymoon! We started our trip on 29th December 2010 spending 4 months travelling overland through Europe, Russia and Mongolia to China. After many a train and bus journey we caved-in and flew from Western China to Malaysia, and worked our way north to Thailand and Cambodia. The time came for us to replenish our bank accounts, so we headed to Western Australia for work in July 2011 and lived in Fremantle until February 2012. After a couple of months back home seeing our families and friends, we headed back down-under. This time we headed for New Zealand and we are currently living in Wellington. Our blog started as part of an elaborate wedding present from two of our very good friends. The idea was that on our trip we should blog from every country we visit, detailing the sights, sounds and smells and most importantly, the beer. We have certainly had fun writing it - but moreso, living it!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Siem Reap & Phnom Penh, Cambodia (14th - 19th July)

Cycling around Angkor Wat

We had heard our fair share of horror stories about the border between Thailand and Cambodia, namely in terms of people being scammed out of quite a lot of money.  We caught a tuk tuk from the railway station to the border, and were perturbed to realise that all the white people were being taken to a different place to the locals.  As we exited the tuk tuk, to shouts of “where you from, England? Ah lovely jubbly hahaham please come with me now to fill in your border form', we slunk away up the road and away from the maniacal scammers.  To be fair to them, as they realised we weren't going to be duped, they shouted after us to turn right at the top of the road and that was the border.  Cheers!  We later found out that lots of people had been taken in by it and were paying $50 to fill in a bogus border form.  The girl who'd almost been duped told us that the guys working there were just unable to lie, so when she asked “ is this actually necessary?  Is this actually the border?” they just looked at each other guiltily.  This scam has apparently gone on for years, and the only reason it carries on can only be with the co-operation of the local police and border officials, so you do have to worry that if there is such blatant corruption at a low level, what on earth goes on higher up?

We successfully exited Thailand with no problems and then tramped through 'no man's land', marvelling at the sheer amount of casinos (gambling is illegal in Thailand so many Thais come here to gamble).  We were directed to a certain building by lots of people –
Liam: “don't fall for it, just keep walking”
Charlotte: “but the building they're pointing to looks pretty official”
Liam: “what makes it look official?”
Charlotte: “it's... painted grey?”
Liam: *raised eyebrow*

We kept on walking until we got to the next checkpoint, where the official told us we hadn't got the visa stamp in lour passports so we needed to go back.  Where do we get the visa stamp?  The grey building! After reading so many stories about scams at the border, Liam took the approach of keep on walking until someone in uniform stops you going any further!

We were technically still scammed out of $1 each as a 'fee' to the border guards (written on a comedy little hand written sign, presumably to be whipped away if their boss showed up), but when we heard one guy triumphantly bragging he'd got out of it by causing a huge scene and threatening to call the police, we felt $1 was probably worth it just to avoid the fuss, given that these people have the power to make your day very difficult to say the least.  Border navigated, we met up with a German girl called Anna and caught a taxi together into Siem Reap.  Travelling in cars in Cambodia is quite a thrill, as they drive on the right but have right hand drive cars.  This means that when they want to overtake, which they do regularly (why are we always in the taxi/bus that wants to overtake every other vehicle on the road?), the passengers have a better view of oncoming traffic than the driver! A little scary but thankfully neither of us was in the front seat. We got there safely (the only minor injuries sustained were to a stray dog that ran out in front of the car), booked into a lovely guesthouse and went to a local Khmer-run restaurant for dinner. 

The next 3 days were spent exploring the temples of Angkor Wat.   We road around on bicycles for the first two days, but the final three temples were much further away so we hired a driver for the day.  It's difficult to sum up the experience really, and the photos do no justice whatsoever, but we'll try and describe the temples that we went to!

Angkor Wat:  The Big One.  Having read so much about the place, and seen so many photos, it was hard for Angkor Wat to live up to expectations.  We were hassled by kids to buy drinks and postcards, and the whole place just felt overwhelming.  However, we did hire a really informative guide who took us round and pointed lots of things out which we wouldn't have otherwise noticed (for a price of course!).  There was a fair bit of construction work going on so it wasn’t quite as impressive as we expected.

Bayon:  The One With All The Faces.  Bayon has 216 huge faces of Jayavarman VII gazing down at you, lending a sinister yet intruiging air to the site. 

Ankhor Tom:  The One With All The Little Bits.  Ankhor Tom is made up of many small temples, and was great for whipping round on the bikes and getting away from the crowds. 

Ta Phrom:  The One That Was In Tomb Raider.  Completely overgrown by trees as nature has taken it's course, Ta Phrom is a deliciously spooky temple where the imagination can take over. 

Bantaey Srei: The One Which Is Basically Ankor Wat In Miniture.  Immaculately preserved bas reliefs and very accessible size gave a dolls' house feel to this temple.

Kbal Speil: The One With Carvings In A Waterfall.  Name says it all really.  Pretty. 

Beng Mealea: The One That Should Have Been In Indiana Jones.  Well, we certainly saved the best til last.  This temple is far enough away to avoid the camera snapping crowds and ruined enough to give it an 'other worldly' type feel.  We were shown around by a local kid called Song (he went to tourism school so can do the tour in English, Mandarin, Japanese and German!).  We had an utterly fantastic couple of hours clambering over dangerously crumbling archways and ducking into rooms created by the caving in of the original building. Truly awesome.  

And with that, our time at the temples had comes to an end.  We enjoyed it immensely, far more than we'd actually expected to, and wished we'd had the time get a 1 week pass rather than a 3 day pass.  Because our days were filled with templing we saw relatively little of Siem Reap itself, but what we did see of the river, the market, and our local favourite restaurant, we  enjoyed!  Our evenings were well spent enjoying the food and drinking cheap beer (a novelty as beer in Thailand wasn’t particularly cheap).

We then headed off to Phnom Penh, our last stop of the trip. We had a bit of a hassle finding a room, and ended up going with the advice of a tuk tuk driver – not something we've ever done before, or would do again!  But when you are loitering around looking lost as the hostel we had in mind was full up, you are at their mercy!  They tend to get commission from the kinds of places which might not survive otherwise (i.e. pretty crappy), so it's always a bit of a risk.  We had to insist that they take us to the actual place we were booked into in Siem Reap, as they tried to pull one over on us and take us somewhere else.  We ate at a gorgeous restaurant where the staff all used to be street children who were trained up by an NGO to be catering professionals, very inspiring.  We had plans of having an action packed day for our last day, which then ended up being even more action packed as our flight turned out to be about 6 hours earlier than we'd thought (good job we checked!). So after a zip around the Royal Palace (a bit like Bangkok's, but a lot less OTT, and therefore a lot less interesting to be honest!), and the S21 museum (very interesting and moving, it was used as a political prison in the days of the Khmer Rouge), we raced back to the hostel to pick up our bags and did some last minute shopping at the Russian markets.

We took a flight first to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia before boarding a flight to Perth. Our big travel adventure was over, time to get a job!  These 7 months have been completely brilliant – we feel proud to have (finally!) made it happen, nostalgic looking back over our favourite places, and excited about being settled for a while.

Siem Reap & Phnom Penh, Cambodia

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