September 9 2017
Early start on the bus from Sitiawan to KLIA2 at 0400. Flight to Siam Reap slightly delayed. Couldn’t see a lot as we didn’t have window seats but first impressions of Cambodia were green and very wet. Visa took some time and $30.00 USD but we were eventually out and back into the heat. We were met at the airport and driven to our hotel. Many fancy hotels line the main road and traffic is heavy with lots of motorbikes, Tuk Tuks and Lexus 4wd’s.
Arrived at Angkor Boutique Hotel and caught up with Anne and Dave poolside. A walk before dinner took us over the river
and through the old town main road aptly named “ Pub Street”. Lots of people around and a busy atmosphere. Food carts lined the streets and locals were out playing a sort of soccer with a large heavy shuttlecock. Very skilful! We just wandered for a while to get the feel of the place then headed back over the river to the restaurant Dave and Anne had found.
Beautiful meal with 2 drinks for around $16 USD per couple. Alcohol, mainly beer, is heavily advertised everywhere. Such a contrast to Muslim Malaysia. The people are very friendly around not much English is spoken. The evening ended with a spectacular lightning display. We ran back to the nearby hotel before the rain got heavy.
Sunday September 10
The French have left there mark as the bread with breakfast was excellent. Our driver Islam was on time to take us out to Battambang, a town upriver so that we can do a boat trip through the freshwater lakes tomorrow back to Siam Reap. His vehicle was a comfy and spacious Mercedes Van. The roads were very busy with lots of different forms of transport.
Motorbikes and Tuk Tuks keep to the right. Trucks move over as much as they can and cars keep their left indicator on all the time as they try and pass everything. Horns are used incessantly to warn other vehicles ahead. Horn tones are something of an art form here and almost sound friendly. They are certainly not used in anger.
We stop at a Pottery manufacturer to look at what they make. Islam doesn’t speak much English so we don’t get much idea of what its all about. But they like chickens.
The good news is that the toilets out the back are Western and clean.
We pass through another largish town with a new railway being built through it. Some nice Colonial Architecture.
We stopped at a roadside stall and tried a local speciality. A Bamboo stick filled with sticky rice, shredded coconut and black beans. Quite good and not too sweet. Got charged tourist prices but thats all part of it.
Checked into our hotel around midday and arranged a 2.30 pickup to see the sights.
The Classy Hotel has heavy dark wood carvings all throughout the foyer and is currently on display as part of a Cultural Festival. Our room is spacious and overlooks a big beautiful pool. Anne is straight off for a swim while Lea and I head into town for a look and lunch.
Then off again to the Bamboo Railway. This is the Railway line to Phnom Penh. This part of the line is now unused so the locals use it for transport and tourism. The “train” consists of 2 axles with a wood and bamboo frame sitting on top. A slipping fan belt with a lever for belt tension transmits drive from small “lawnmower” type engines to one of the axles. The whole unit can be rapidly disassembled, lifted clear of the track, or reversed. A friendly tourist policeman takes our $5 USD and we make ourselves comfortable on the bamboo frame complete with rugs and cushions for the ride.
Our driver, complete with his assistant and their lunch, fires up the engine, pulls back on the tension lever and we are off.
The trip is interrupted twice as a new freeway being built has cut the track. We hop off our train, walk over to the other side and resume our trip on another train on the other side. Stall provide cold drinks and T shirts if required.
The other interruption is returning trains. Ours is stopped, dissassembeled, removed from the track to allow the other train to pass. We are then reassembled and on our way again in no time.
The line ends at the local village where the pressure is on to sell us souvenirs. We enjoy a cold coconut and Lea bought 2 locally made scarves. Dave was hounded by a determined and charming little girl into buying a few woven wrist bracelets. She had to work very hard for that sale.
Lots of fun and interesting scenery as we drove through the rice fields at around 20 km/hr. A few Brahman cattle were seen and lots of termite mounds. The driver indicated that the locals eat the termites.
Then it was off to the Bat Cave, Hill Temple and Killing Cave.
At the bottom of the mountain we learnt 4wd was needed for the accent.
So off we went in the tray of a Hilux for $15 USD each to the top. Our driver didn’t come so we were on our own. However, an enterprising and pushy young man got a dollar off Anne to give us the story.
The cave with its reclining Buddha was where local people fled during the days of Pol pot. Once discovered the Khmer Rouge used a smaller nearby cave to torture and execute people. There are terrible stories of people being thrown down cave holes, heads cut off etc.
The cage contains human bones and skulls of some of the victims. There is a bizarre memorial park showing some of the variety of horrors inflicted on the people here.
At the top, near the temple gun emplacements still remain.
The temple is beautiful with stunning views over the surrounding flat countryside.
Cheeky monkeys are always around.
We were back at the base of the mountain in time to watch the nightly exodus of a few million bats from the depths of the caves.
Back to the hotel for a swim and dinner at the rooftop restaurant. We are finding Cambodian food a big improvement on Malaysian.
Monday September 11
A rushed breakfast to get to the boat in time. Our vessel for the day did have lifejackets. 4 of them for the 14 on board. It did have a toilet cunningly kept clean via a constant flush from a branch off the raw water pump on the engine. It wasn’t overcrowded and it did have padded seats. However, the big 6 cylinder turbo charged motor running a long-tail prop was unmuffled. VERY LOUD.
The river bank was congested with slap together houses mainly of timber with iron roofs. The river is the rubbish tip and the banks were lined with garbage and plastic of every variety. However, the kids were happily splashing about, women were bathing and men were setting fishing nets. The poverty was evident but they still had happy smiles and a welcoming wave. The housing did get better as we moved away from the town.
Beyond the city we entered the freshwater lake system with its myriad of channels through marsh land and stilt houses. We had a few short stops to exchange local people and produce. Many others used the river for transport in a variety of vessels.
We had to cross Tonle Sap Lake. The breeze was up and the lake was rough. The boat flexed and groaned. Navigation was by steering toward the small pimple of a hill in the distance, just as well it wasn’t raining. The entrance to the channel up to Siem Reap would be very easy to miss.
Finally back at Siam Reap sporting headaches from the constant noise we were glad to get off the boat. Enough of Cambodian boat trips.
At the hotel we met up with Heang our Cambodia Cycling organiser. She briefed us on final arrangements and took our passports for our Vietnam Visa’s.
Enjoyed a Tuk Tuk ride and a great massage in town at Real Spa before dinner. Cycling starts tomorrow.