We’ve been in Cambodia for three weeks now, and we love it! We’ve had a fantastic time travelling around the country from Siem Reap in the north, across to Battambang in the west, and then all the way down to Kampot and Kep on the south coast, where we spent Christmas and New Year.
We’ve met and enjoyed lots of beer with some fantastic people, got dumped in the river again, and we’ve done something that we never thought we’d do – more on this later!
Having finished with the temples of Angkor Wat, we moved down to a lovely little “homestay” near the massive Tonle Sap lake. Homestays are private houses that rent out rooms to travellers. These can be a room in their house or purpose-built accommodation, but either way it gives you an experience of living with Cambodian people.
We really enjoyed our first Homestay experience. We were made to feel so welcome by all of the Cambodian family and a couple of expats who were also living full-time at the homestay property. Phil even managed to get in a bit of DIY, helping to put up some kitchen shelves. Highlight of our visit was the Sunday evening BBQ, where Scott, Thomas and Patrick (think “Last of the Summer Wine”) cooked a fantastic meal for the family and all the backpackers. Biggest challenge of the evening was finding enough ice to keep all the $10 cases of beer cold.
Speaking of dollars, currency, it’s very strange in Cambodia. They use a mixture of American dollars, and for small change less than a dollar they use the Cambodian Riel – 4,000 Riel to a dollar. All totally interchangeable. You end up with a pocketful of two currencies, fortunately all in notes, no coins. Anybody travelling to Cambodia you only need to bring dollars.
When we finally dragged ourselves away from our Homestay, we took the seven hour ferry boat from Siem Reap to Battambang. The first three hours of the ferry trip were actually very enjoyable along the picturesque river which was alive with local fisherman, and many pretty, but rustic floating villages.
But then, the journey changed. The captain started going much slower and taking it very easily around the corners. It was soon evident why, as we suddenly became grounded on a shallow mud bank in the river. No amount of engine revving could get the boat free.
“All the men out” shouted the captain.
We all looked at each other in amazement not really sure what he was asking us to do, then it became very clear he wanted us all in the murky water to push the boat off the mud bank. On the next three bends, this same pattern was repeated with the guys in the water at each bend. However, we soon ended up well and truly stuck.
“ All the women in the water“ shouted the captain, and soon 90% of the boats passengers were in the water pushing the boat off of the mudbank.
Oh we laughed!!! Well actually we did at first, and the general sense of teamwork and camaraderie made it all quite fun. Until we’d been in the water about 10 times and then it became quite tiresome, hard work and quite ridiculous. The boat was massively overloaded and the water levels far too low to be running this service, but with 50 passengers at $15 a time the show had to go on! We finally arrived at our destination, Battambang, in the dark, 12 hours after setting off.
Battambang was a fantastic place to visit and we really enjoyed our time there, including cookery school, where we cooked our first Cambodian food, and we rode on the fabulously fun “Bamboo Train”. But what we’ll remember most is our visit to the “bat cave” a few miles outside of the city. At 5:30, as dusk was falling, the bats started pouring out of the cave in a constant massive stream. We lost count, but apparently there’s at least 15 million bats living in the cave, who all head off to the paddy fields for the night, looking for mosquitos to feed on.
We watched the bats leaving the cave for thirty minutes and the flow hadn’t stopped. A truly amazing spectacle!!
And now – something we thought we’d never do !
As we’ve travelled around Southeast Asia, we’ve spoken to so many people who tell us we should rent a motorbike and go exploring by ourselves. We always laughed, and said no that’s not for us, Phil’s never ridden a motorbike in his life, and Carol’s only ever been a passenger a few times in her teens (quite a few years ago)! Well, we finally bucked up the courage to give it a go. At $4 a day small scooters are very cheap and with many very quiet roads outside of the towns, we decided it was time for us to experience something new.
Well, what have we been missing! It’s actually not much different to riding our electric bikes. We had such a fun time exploring the countryside on our little scooter. We think we got laughed at by the locals and other “bikers“ for driving at 15 miles an hour along the side of the road, but we didn’t care, we were just loving this new experience and the freedom it gave us to explore places that we could never of got to before. One of our greatest enjoyments when we’re travelling is to get out into the country and see the wildlife. All of a sudden we’ve found a new way to enhance our enjoyment. Fantastic!
We headed down to the lovely town of Kampot for Christmas, in a very plush hotel for a couple of days. Really enjoyed our visit to the Pepper Plantation, and the really enjoyable water buffalo ride. After endless searching we finally found a bar that was hosting a Christmas Day dinner “party”. We duly turned up at one o’clock on Christmas Day, to find out that we were the only ones booked in. The hosts had as much charisma as two stone lions, so we ate our gammon dinner(!) as quickly as we could, and spent the rest of the day barhopping unsuccessfully trying to find ourselves a party. It’s lucky we enjoy our own company as much as we do.
Next day we finally found ourselves a proper Christmas dinner, and spent a great evening with Aussie Gary and fiancé Nhu – which ended in an open invitation to go and stay at Gary’s house in Aus for a few weeks. Ha ha, we always tell people if you invite us, we’re likely to turn up, see you soon Gary!
For the New Year, we headed down to the beach resort of Kep. Kep’s a strange place as it has no town centre. It’s just a mixture of hotels, markets, bars, restaurants, a fantastic crab market, and shops distributed along four miles of coastline.
We’d arranged a New Years Eve party with our hosts at our hotel – Jaun-Pierre and Asli, which almost turned into a disaster when the Hotel Manager did a runner the day before, but we ended up having a fantastic multicultural evening with two Turks, one South African, one French and us two Brits. Suffice to say Turkey’s now been added to our places to visit!
That’s it folks – apologies it’s a bit of a long blog, so if you’ve made it this far, congratulations, and Happy New Year.
Next stop – Phnom Penh and our stay in the Red Light district.