A Travellerspoint blog

Siem Reap - Day 2

sunny 31 °C

Early mornings aren't usually our thing, especially after years of both of us working in the bar business, so this week has been a workout and Friday was no exception. We were done breakfast and on the road by 8am as our guide had more big plans for our day. It started with a an hour and a half tuk-tuk ride to Phnom Kbal Spen, a thousand year old site that is built into a river bed as a temple to purify the water that flows in to the Siem Reap area. We hiked a couple kilometres into the hills and found the magical ruins, it doesn't look like much of a filtration system, but it is still pretty amazing what people can accomplish.

We opted for a late lunch and got back on the road, we were sharing good roads with pedal bikes, mopeds, cars and farm equipment as we drove through these very rural areas. It is pretty interesting to get on the back roads and see how the people live. The next stop on the temple tour was Banteay Srei, also known "The Lady Temple" because of its petite size and pink colour from the red sandstone it is made of. Probably the most beautiful site we have seen so far, this one was amazing.

With the many miles of driving, hiking and exploring it was mid afternoon by the time we got out of the Lady Temple. We found some lunch and were pretty wiped out, so opted for a nap instead of taking our guide up on the rest of our days plans...I really think he could keep us going around the clock if we let him. As it was he already had plans to start at 5am Saturday morning to see the sun come up over Ankor Wat.

The nap was a good plan as Siem Reap comes alive at night and we wanted to check out the night markets, restaurants and bars as we are only here for a short time. We had found a place that offered a 12 course tasting menu and my taste buds weren't taking "no" for an answer. All small dishes made of banana leaf, the meal was an excellent sampling of chicken, fish, eel and vegetables mixed with spices in the traditional Khmer way, it was delicious. Don't forget the four desserts they brought to finish off the flavour adventure! Back on the street we were headed to the heart of the action which is around the corner from our hotel and aptly named, "Pub Street." Everything from food carts and bbq's to three story food, booze and live music venues, this street is a feast for the senses. We wandered for a while, but had to head to the "Red Piano" to see if it could live up to the name. The Belgian owner has put together a nice place, but there is no red piano, the staff doesn't measure up to the crew in St.Maarten and there is no Frankie G and no Gomez Bros (this list could go on!), so we have to say, it just wasn't the same.

Another great day, it doesn't take long to decide that this is a place that we think everyone should see once in their life if they have the chance. We are only here for 3 full days, but you could definitely fill a week if you wanted to!

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Posted by colincampbell 16:37 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

A change in the weather

sunny 30 °C

It has been a busy few days for us as you can see from the additions to our map. Lots of early mornings and long days to get to where we are tonight, relaxing in Siem Reap and thinking of all our friends and family celebrating Thanksgiving this weekend, best wishes to all.

Yesterday we packed up early and headed for the airport in Goa at 5am for our 7 o'clock flight that took us through Mumbai to New Delhi. It is a huge airport, but the airlines were being reasonable and we had plenty of time to find our bags and get onto our flight to Bangkok. Our flight arrived on time and our hotel near the airport had a car waiting for us which was great after 12 hours of travel. We weren't sure what to expect, but the efficiency and warmth of all the people we encountered and the cleanliness and (relative) lack of chaos on the roads was a warm breath of fresh air for us. Remember that when I say relative lack of chaos, we are comparing to India and Nepal so it still is very entertaining as long as we are in the safety of a bigger vehicle than everyone else. The hotel was great and the restaurant made the best pad thai we have ever had along with some great soups and rice dishes as well. We almost made use of the spa, but opted for a shower and some clean sheets instead as our alarm was set early again for this morning.

I think the wake up call came at 5:30 this morning and we were headed back to the airport for our 8am flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Cambodia's history is somewhat violent and at times pretty nasty, if you have seen the news lately you know that they are currently holding trials here against a few of the top brass of the Khmer Rouge, the regime responsible for the death of over two million Cambodians in the late 70's. I haven't had a chance to ask anyone yet about their thoughts on the trial, but whatever their feelings and in spite of this years severe flooding, the people here are overwhelmingly warm and hospitable. The airport reminded me of St.Maarten before the new terminal was built; you walk out the airplane door into the warm fresh air and sunlight, down the stairs and across the tarmac to smiling faces and the arrival terminal. We were the only airplane arriving early this morning so it was a rather intimate affair, within minutes we were cleared through and out the other side. More smiling faces and uniforms arranged a taxi for us and we prepaid the seven dollars that it would cost to get us to our hotel. We couldn't help but to be grinning as our driver chatted with us about where we were coming from and when we would like to explore the town, it was obvious he was fishing for more work, but he was so nice about it that we didn't argue. Preferring a "tuk-tuk" to his air conditioned car for our days adventures he made the arrangements that his brother would be our guide for the rest of the day. We checked into our hotel, grabbed a shower and met him at the front door.

Siem Reap is world heritage site and, according to our map, is home to 53 historic sites dating back as far as the 8th century, the most famous being, Ankor Wat. We bought a three day pass that includes access to all of these sites and totally lucked in with our guide as he knows everything we want to see (usually before we do) and has a great sense of humour to boot. He had plans from start to finish, sites, lunch, more sites, sunset views, all the great photo spots, then an hour break for showers and he was back to take us to the best dinner spot in town. The details would make this blog the longest one yet, by far. To give you an idea, I think we took about 50 pictures over the last 3 weeks in India and today alone we took almost 300. Ankor Wat was the first stop and was incredible, the detail in this (and every) temple we saw today was mind-blowing. Lunch was delicious, mine a fish and banana leaves in a coconut sauce and Nat had a chicken curry, both were cooked and served in a coconut which added to the show and the flavour of the meal. The afternoon was temples and palaces that are unlike anything we have ever seen, we wandered from one to the next, and when it was too far to walk, our tuk-tuk was ready to go. One of the last sites we saw was a temple that was used for the set of the Tomb Raider movie from the mid-1990's. It was one place that even Hollywood couldn't improve as the temple left us in awe, while, I am pretty sure, the movie left us a little disappointed.

Just as the long day was starting to take it's toll and we were thinking of a nap, our trusty guide announce that he had secured reservations for us at the best place in town. His excitement was obvious so we couldn't disappoint and we grabbed a shower and sucked it up. We arrived at a fancy entrance equipped with smiling faces and sharp uniforms and were immediately ushered to a table for two. That wasn't going to do, so we grabbed a chair and made it a table for three and brought our new friend along. The restaurant is a huge, with hundreds of seats, a big stage in the front and enough food to feed an army arranged around the back. Food stations are manned by teams of chefs that are mixing soups, noodles and meat skewers faster then we can eat. There was no strategy, we just tried to keep up with the amazing smells and flavours that we dragged back to our table to share. Just as our appetites started to give up, the show started. First was local musicians and then different groups of traditional dancers, a feast for all of the senses.

What a great couple of days. This part of our trip is going to be great. Enjoy the turkey!

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Posted by colincampbell 09:26 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Still searching through India

semi-overcast 32 °C

I guess it might be a bit of a sign of the times that it has been almost a week since we have written a blog. I can't decide if it has been this long because we aren't finding it very interesting or we have just become a bit complacent in the things we are seeing. I hope it isn't the latter as we are still pretty discouraged by a lot of the things we are seeing. We added the first photo of the beach in touristy Fort Kochi to show the traditional Chinese fishing nets (that are top of the trip advisor list of things to see here) and the garbage laden beach that they are built on. Although we have found the south less crowded and a little cleaner than the north, it still holds many questions we still can't fathom answers for.

We left Varkala after a relaxing 3 days, there wasn't much more to do after we wandered through the town and along the beaches. Nat did find a good local artist that made her a painting and also tried a local tailor who made her a pretty cool pair of pants for about $4. We were all set to take the train back to Fort Kochi (where we get the plane to Goa) but at the last minute we decided to avoid the aggravation that would surely accompany the random train schedule and took a car on the four hour journey. We decided to spend a night in Fort Kochi to see what it had to offer after our first attempt had been such a failure. In the guidebooks, the streets were described as "French Colonial" and were said to be full of excellent shops and spectacular restaurants, while the beach was said to be another highlight. We went for a walk when we arrived in the afternoon, it was a marked improvement over our first night in this town, but we still couldn't imagine being one of the regular tourists that had decided to spend their short annual vacation in this place. It would be pretty disappointing.

Friday we were flying from Kochi to Goa. I think it would have taken about the same 12 hours it took to fly if we had taken the train. Regardless, we got safely to Goa and back with our trusty tour guide, Shaz. We are in Northern Goa which is known for its beaches, nightclubs and yoga retreats which seems to mean it attracts a variety of tourists looking for a wide variety of entertainment. We rented a scooter right away so we have the freedom to explore and that's exactly what we did...for about 17 minutes which is when we ran out of gas. Natalie immediately accosted the nearest english speaker tourist and he offered to drive me to a gas station which was a lifesaver as it wasn't walking distance by any stretch of the imagination. Back in action we turned a 15 minute drive home into an hour long adventure as the signage here is rather limited and our sense of direction was ridiculously distorted.
At night we have been checking out the local bars and restaurants which has been crazy as the streets here are tiny, but rival the chaos of Delhi. Nat found a great massage yesterday, so I think I'm heading there now while she has gone to do some yoga with Shaz's girlfriend, Ilena. It is Ilena's birthday today so Shaz has organised a big party tonight which should be great.

A few more days and on to Cambodia.

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Posted by colincampbell 19:16 Archived in India Comments (0)

Getting better....I think...

sunny 34 °C

We arrived in Verkala yesterday after a 3 hour taxi ride that wasn't too bad. The south of India is a little less populated then the north and has plenty of palm trees that distract you a little from the less attractive parts. The hotel lived up to almost half of it's advertised attractions which is becoming par for the course. It is great to be back on the ocean though and it really is a quaint little village that is mostly built around yoga and ayurvedic massage centres, not a great place to open a bar, but a very tranquil place.
Having no interest in an early morning yoga session, we got up late and went for a long walk down the beach and then in to town. The locals give us mixed signals, some are overwhelmingly warm and welcoming whilst others seem to make a point of taking a dump on the side of the road when we walk by. That said, we didn't lunch outside the area near our hotel which rims the cliff above the beach which is almost 100% great.
We were walking back after lunch and were convinced to come and try a massage at one of the many clinics that are apparently world renowned for treating whatever ails you. $30 for 90 minutes, sounds good to me...

The next part of the story has been deleted. There are probably no actual accounts of one of these massages online because no one wants to relive it. It was horrendous, don't email us and ask for details, because we won't give them. Let us just save you the hassle and say....don't, just don't...enough said.

We went for stiff cocktails immediately after escaping that mess, lesson learned...we are looking forward to Thailand as I don't think we will have any other massages until then. Dinner tonight is some fresh local seafood and more cocktails, many more cocktails...

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Posted by colincampbell 08:46 Archived in India Comments (0)

The Backwaters of Alleppey

sunny 27 °C

When we (I really mean Nat) was researching all of the adventures we might have on this six month voyage, we (I still mean Nat) scrolled through many lists of "top things to do" that we might have the opportunity to bump into. I don't remember who put it on their list, but we heard about the backwaters of Kerala numerous times. The town of Alleppey has a dock full of boats that we could have chosen from, but our hotel conveniently had one arranged for us that picked us up without us having to go anywhere. So we spent the morning by the pool and were picked up around noon.
If you read the last blog, when I went looking for Nat she was in the kitchen where the chef was showing her how he made a bunch of our favourite dishes. It was a good spot to spend a couple of days.
The boat was about 80 feet long and almost 20 feet wide, wooden and heavy and powered by an old diesel engine that topped out around a blazing, 8 miles per hour. But it was very comfortable, over half of the boat was dining room and bedroom and the rest was kitchen and crew quarters. It was an extremely relaxing 24 hours as we explored the rice fields a in our big boat, and they even arranged a smaller boat to take us through the really narrow canals. It was an interesting look at their way of life, but I think those who have it on their "all time best" lists are blowing things a little out of proportion. The food was great again which keeps us going when it comes to searching for more. The trip was over the next day midmorning and we had seen all that this area had to offer...it was time to move on to our next spot, Varkala Beach.

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Posted by colincampbell 08:11 Archived in India Comments (0)

Photos from Kerala, India

sunny 30 °C

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Posted by colincampbell 20:21 Archived in India Comments (0)

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