Sunday, 25 March 2012

Kompong Cham

Thursday 15 March: Having picked-up my passport in Phnom Penh, complete with full Thai visa, I've decided to break my journey back to Siem Reap in the lazy, less touristy, provincial capital of Kompong Cham. Set on the banks of the Mekong river, it's an old colonial town with a pretty pink French lighthouse as well as an impressive Khmer bamboo bridge which crosses to one of the islands. The equally impressive new concrete bridge was the first in Cambodia to completely span the Mekong, helping give Kompong Cham renewed life as an important transport hub.
Friday 16: Cycling over the hand-built bamboo bridge to the pretty island of Koh Paen is a fantastic, if nerve racking, experience. So, I peddle a mile or so west to relax at Wat Nokor, a modern Buddhist temple built inside an ancient, 11th century, Buddhist shrine. Five miles further west is the Big Buddha complex with many modern Buddha statues in various poses. Returning back to town it's a hot exhausting ride over the Mekong to climb to the top gantry of the old French lighthouse - seen the movie vertigo?
Saturday 20: Bus to Siem Reap for three nights at the Mandalay Inn, then onto the workaday town of Sisophon for one night and an early morning start to Poipet and the Thai border.

Photos of Kompong Cham plus a video clip of early evening line dancing on the promenade.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012


Sunday 11 March: To break up my wait in Phnom Phen I've popped down to the seaside for a few days, Sihanoukville, a mere five hours away ($4 by Phnom Penh Sory bus).
Tuesday 13: It's changed so much in the last two years: the wide muddy pot-holed track down to the beach is now a concrete dual-carriageway, the beach strip is more built up, there's now a boat pier and the rates at my hotel of choice have rocketed skywards (from $4 to $10 a night). Fortunately though, the quality seafood and draft beer prices remain the same, great.
Sokhom Guesthouse - large clean double-aspect en-suite ($10) with shared balcony, TV and free wifi.

Photos of Sihanoukville.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Phnom Penh

Friday 13 March: Reluctantly I return to the capital city, Phnom Penh. I need a Thailand visa so I cycle south, along Norodom Blvd, to the Thai embassy. Last time I was here it was free but now it's $40 for a two-month tourist visa plus a four-day wait, so I'll pick it up next Wednesday.
Saturday 10: A quick cycle around the city - newly painted, green and white, train station (but no trains yet), hilltop Wat Phnom and the yellow and white domed Psar Thmei or central market in the heart of the city.
Royal Guesthouse on 154 Street is my usual choice - large, clean en-suite on 5th floor
($7) with TV and free wifi downstairs in their good cafe, try the pork steak with mash for a taste of home.

A few photos of Phnom Penh now and photos of more Phnom Penh sights from 2010.

Friday, 9 March 2012


Tuesday 6 March: It's the dry season and water levels are low so it's a grueling 9-hour boat trip ($19.5) to Battambang - it's like diving head-first into the pages of National Geographic magazine. Ousing rust-red weed topped waters, floating villages, stilt-houses, Chinese-style cantilever fishing nets, fish traps, smiling and waving families, never a dull moment.
Wednesday 7: The Norri (90th mode of transport) or Bamboo train ($8 for half-hour round trip)
is unique - a flat bamboo bogie with detachable wheels driven by a rubber fan-belt from a small petrol engine, there's a mat to sit on - and that's it! They rattle along the narrow warped and twisted old French single-track line and when two meet head-on, the less heavily laden one is unloaded and dismantled so the other can pass. More like a fairground ride than a train journey, it scares me stiff, but what a great way to take advantage of an obsolete railway line. To get there cycle south along the east bank of the Sangker river and, after crossing a wide main road that bridges the river, turn left along a little road through a temple compound, continue straight on until you cross over the railway tracks, turn immediately right and you're there.
Toll Royal Railways are planning to reopen Cambodia's railway network with a view to operating passenger services and are already refurbishing the old French railway bridge over the river. Hopefully this will not lead to the demise of the Bamboo trains. Cycling across the freshly painted bridge, I continue 10km or so further south along the west riverbank towards to reach Prasat Phnom Banon Winery, Cambodia's only wine producer. The Banon Shiraz is better than the brandy, but could be improved by time or the addition of ice-cubes
- you could breath fire or thin paint with the brandy.
Royal Hotel - large clean en-suite ($7) with TV, fridge, free wifi and an inside courtyard window.

Photos of Battambang now and a rainy Battambang in July 2010.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Siem Reap and around

Tuesday 21 February: One of my favourite places in the world: good accommodation and food, reasonably priced Aussie and French wines ($4 plus), cheap draft Angkor beer ($0.5), stunning ancient Khmer ruins, modern Buddhist temples, plus six-nations rugby on TV, I'm going to stay here for a while.
Wednesday 22: Wat Bo is locked but the temple grounds, filled with numerous multi-coloured stupa, make it worthwhile.In the evening many hawkers congregate at the night market where I pick-up a Lonely Planet guidebook of Cambodia for just $3, it's a fake of course, the pages are photocopies of an original book but it's well finished and good enough for my purposes.
Thursday 23: Hiring a bicycle for the day ($1) I peddle,
12km east along busy National Highway 6, to the Roluos group of temples, then turn north along country lanes to Eastern Beray and thus I get into the Angkor Wat group of temples through the back door. It's enjoyable cycling around the ruins but, as I don't have a ticket, I'm unable to enter individual sites. No problem, I've seen all the temples before. It's a great cycle ride and I try to navigate my way to West Beray, but my maps are poor and I end up at the airport. It's hot, I'm tired and thirsty, so I head for home.
Friday 24: While walking north along Siem reap river to Wat Preah Inkosei I pop into Angkor in Miniature, a stone sculptor's garden filled with rock-carved temples, where you can climb onto the roof and take aerial photos for a fraction of the price of a balloon ride. The wat is pretty good with a gleaming Buddha and colourful frescos depicting key moments from his life.

Saturday 25: Red Lodge has gone downhill since my last visit so, with time to check-out several other options, I move to the Mandalay Inn, complete with a rooftop multi-gym, a much better deal. Cycling south along the Siem Reap river towards the Tonle Sap I eventually reach Phnom Krom hilltop in time for dusk. It's too cloudy for a proper sunset but some of the sun dappled clouds are could be oils on canvas.
Wednesday 29: Finally I manage to find my way to West Beray, a huge man-made lake which makes the moats of European castles, built around the same time, look like muddy puddles. Peddling back I stop at Prasat Ta Noreay, a modern temple on the lakeside, then pass through Bayon and Angkor Wat grounds again before arriving back in Siem Reap.
My hotel of choice is the Mandalay Inn - clean en-suite ($7) with TV, double-aspect window, free wifi and unnecessary hot shower.

Photos in and around Siem Reap and some from July 2010:
Siem Reap
Angkor's Grand Tour
Angkor's Petit Tour
Angkor Thom
Angkor Wat
Banteay Srei and beyond

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Cambodia: Koh Ker and Beng Mealea

Friday 2 March: I'm based in Siem Reap and hire a moto, or motorcycle taxi, to take me to Koh Ker (pronounced Koh-key) temple and back via Beng Mealea ruins. This means the usual price haggling and it's $30 for the six-hour return trip, a long time on a bike.
The stepped pyramid temple at Koh Ker wouldn't look out of place in Central America and the numerous Linga temples with their huge stone Phallus's are remarkable.
By contrast Beng Mealea is a jungle temple with much of it held together by the tree roots that are slowly destroying it.
Photos of Koh Ker and Beng Mealea.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Khao Sok

Saturday 18 February: Taking a bus to Phanom (100Bt) I flag down a minibus (100Bt) heading to Khao Sok National Park and, after looking at several resorts, I settle into a comfortable hut at Mung House (300Bt).
Sunday 19: My reason for staying here is to take a trip on the the park's large lake and I take a bus along the main highway to Batakun (70Bt) but there's no onward public transport to Rajjaphapa Dam so I'm forced to take a motorcycle taxi (150Bt) for the final 12 kilometres. A boat trip on the lake is prohibitively expensive as I'd have to charter a whole boat for myself, pity. Instead I take a stroll to a nearby viewpoint to take in the lake scenery but I really want to be closer, probably best done as an organised overnight tour - next time.
Monday 20: My visa is running out so I need to get out of Thailand. Bus to Surat Thani train station (120Bt), 2nd class sleeper to Bangkok (698Bt), Metro to Sukhumvit-Asok, Skytrain to Mo Chit, motorbike taxi to Mo Chit bus station, bus to Aranya Prathet (212Bt), motorbike taxi to what turns out to be a bogus border post where I'm charged 1,200Bt for what should have been a 800Bt Cambodian visa (yes, caught by a scam), bus to Siem Reap ($9).
Photos of Khao Sok National Park.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Phang Nga

Thursday 16 February: I'm staying in a light, spacious and airy, large-windowed room in the teak-floored Thawisuk Hotel (180Bt), far better value than the places listed in my guidebook which also describes Phang Nga as "a scruffy, luckless town . . . lacking quality accommodation . . . that doesn't have a tourist office". I like it here, I like my hotel, and the lady in the tourist office, in the south part of town, is very helpful, giving me good advise and a free map (there's not one in my book).
Walking further south and under a cavernous arch I reach a small park with a pretty lake set beneath the area's jaggy limestone pinnacles. Back towards town is the, only slightly tacky, Heaven and Hell cave temple which has a good fun entrance through the mouth of a brightly painted dragon - teeth as jagged as the mountains above. Winding back-and-forth over little arched bridges the path leads into the depths of the stream-floored cavern where eerie recorded sounds echo from the distant blackness . . . ooooh . . . ooooh. It makes me snicker out loud, only adding to the strange echoing noises.
Friday 17: My main reason for staying in town is to take a full-day boat trip around Phang Nga Bay and to this end Mr Kean Tours (probably not the best operator - I've done this trip before and it was far better) has already collared me at the bus station (550Bt for the tour). This morning I'm off: pick-up transfer to Tha Dan pier, mangrove forests, Lod Cave, Hong Island and Panak Island for lunch and a swim, then on our way back we tie up on the highlight of the tour, Ping Kan Island, before docking at Panyee Island Muslim fishing village, passing some rock paintings and returning to town. Ping Kan Island is better known worldwide as James Bond Island as featured as the villain's lair in the final scenes of the movie of Ian Fleming's twelfth and final spy novel, The Man with the Golden Gun, first published in 1965. You can just imagine Roger Moor as MI6's top "007" agent, on the sandy beach, Walther PPK in hand, facing up to duel with Christopher Lee's crazed arch-enemy character, Scaramanger, and who can forget bikini-clad Brit Ekland, as agent Midnight, sun-bathing below the limestone stake poking out of Koh Hong's crescent bay? Good day out.
Photos of Phang Nga.