Sunday, April 29, 2012

Of Bus Trips, Boat Rides and Bungalows

Two days after arriving in Phnom Penh, I was privy to a group discussion around where to spend Khmer New Year, which fell over the weekend of the 13th April.  It's a good thing the people taking part in the discussion became my friends, because way back in February they invited me to go on holiday with them..

Two months flew by and the much anticipated holiday drew nearer.  Bags were packed, camera batteries charged and the night before we left, the holiday crew slept at our house so we could leave as early as possible.

The air conditioned mini van, pad kos (road food), lots of good conversation and laughs made the trip seem pretty short (except for when we got lost) and after a few hours we uncertainly unloaded ourselves in a quiet fishing village, amidst a few giggling kids and the odour of fish. A rickety pier took us to the boats, but not ours...  We hung around until our boat came to fetch us and we chugged off in the direction of the island.  At this point I was ridiculously excited as I have dreamt of such a holiday for years and couldn't believe that I would soon be spending a few days in a bungalow, lying in a hammock, on an island.  And that the bungalow was literally right on the beach..woah!!

So in this state of disbelieving excitement we arrived at Koh Thmei Island.  What followed was a glorious few days of hammock lying, book reading, beach walking, sea swimming, tube floating, sun burning, cocktail drinking, delicious food eating, card playing, sunrise admiring fun:)  I returned feeling refreshed and incredibly grateful to have had such a great experience. A few photos of paradise:
rose bedecked bow/stern

our bungalow

dining area & bungalow

fish eyed boat

view from the doorway

the water was so warm

sunrise - day 2

one of my best photos ever


fishing boat spotted on a walk

admiring the sunrise

yip, it was even more beautiful than it looks

On a side note, some of us decided a swim in the rain would be a fun thing to do.  As soon as the rain got heavy enough we charged off into the sea.  What had been envisioned as a frolic in the rain turned into yelps and squeals as we realised we'd gone into a shallow, rocky area (by realised I mean the jagged rocks were cutting into our feet and tripping us up).  Optimism prevailed.. Surely the sea would get deeper and we'd escape the rocks soon.  Except we didn't and as we gingerly floated along, the owner of the island appeared on the pier and started waving and shouting, "move over there! sea urchins" Sea urchins? What the heck are they?  At that moment, I discovered what they were as one of them shot a spike into my thumb and I tried to contain my thrashing about to the surface of the water.  Gosh, I was relieved to get into deep, rock and sea urchin free water!  

For the interested, this is where we stayed:

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Siem Reap 2.0

Siem Reap is such a charming town.  After the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh, it was great to take meandering bike rides along the river and out to Angkor Wat (although meandering became lung-killing, leg- wobbling speed as we realised we might miss seeing the sunset from a mountain overlooking part of the temple area), discover walkways bursting with restaurants and quaint boutiques, very little traffic and a laid back atmosphere.

After our Angkor Wat adventure which included walking around the temples for hours before going home for a break and returning on aforementioned bikes for the sunset (which included a roughly 16km cycle both ways and a hike up a mountain only to discover we'd missed the sunset) we spent the evening at a restaurant called Temple whose selling point was the opportunity to watch a free show of Apsara, traditional Khmer dancing.  Delicious chicken amok served in a banana leaf (I'd tried the Cambodian signature dish of fish amok for lunch), ice cold coke, beautiful dancing and good conversation followed by a roadside banana, chocolate and condensed milk pancake would have been enough to satisfy but we'd decided on one last treat for the evening...a Dr. Fish foot massage.  For the unitiated, you sit on the edge of a big tub of water with your feet dangling in the water and little fish eat your dead skin.

It was very ticklish and really freaked me out at first and I had to force myself to keep my feet in the water as the fish FLOCKED to them but you get used to it and it feels good, although I preferred not to watch the fish nibbling away.
wobbliest, most rickety bike I've ridden

self portrait

another part of the night market

street food is changing my life

view from Temple restaurant, home of delicious chicken amok

Siem Reap was lovely and I'm so grateful for the unexpected opportunity to spend a few days there.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Siem Reap 1.0

Some friends of mine spontaneously decided to go to Siem Reap for 2 nights and invited me to join them. After deliberating I decided to take the presented opportunity and go and I am so glad I did!

On Monday morning 6 of us piled into 1 tuk tuk and despite our best intentions arrived late at the bus stop, giddy with excitement and relief that our bus had waited for us.

Six hours later we emerged a little dishevelled from the bus and went off to drop our bags at Tanei Guesthouse.  I'm realising that aircon, a swimming pool and to a lesser degree, bicycles are very important considerations when choosing a guesthouse.

We found a Khmer restaurant with the biggest menu's I've ever seen (due to the inclusion of photographs of each dish).  A meal and fruit shake for $2,50 went down very well!

I'd heard about the great night markets in Siem Reap and they did not disappoint.  We meandered among the stalls, enjoying the surprisingly cool breeze, Rocky Road ice cream and beautiful things for sale.

I love these Tintin prints!

The next day was a very early start. Armed with our packed lunch of fresh French loaf, butter and jam my friend Ang and I joined hundreds of other people to watch the sun come up over the temples of Angkor Wat and then explore as many of the ruins as we could manage.  I thought Angkor Wat was one of the 7 wonders of the world, as as far as I'm concerned it should be.  The grand scale of the buildings, the intricate carvings are incredible and must be seen to be fully appreciated.  We visited a few of the other ruins including Bong Thom and Ta Prom which was my favourite.  It's the one which has the trees growing amongst and through the buildings and even though the trees are destroying the buildings, i found it quite beautiful.  Sadly, my camera battery died about an hour after arriving so I have very few pictures but here are a few: