April 21, 2014

Cambodia : Phnom Penh

Continuation from here...

Our hostel was very easy to find. Camory Backpackers Hostel is located at the shop lots facing the Mekong River. There is a cafĂ© at the ground floor, and restaurants and bar on the first floor.

The hostel wasn't my first choice as it was a little pricey compared to other hostels but I was glad I chose it. The location is perfect. And thankfully, they let us checked in to the dormitory to get some sleep.

view from the hostel

At about 10 am, we woke up and refreshed ourselves before going out for sightseeing.

Our first destination was Wat Ounalom as it is very near to our hostel. The wat was founded in 1443 and comprises 44 structures. It was damaged during the Khmer Rouge era but has since been restored.



 
The Royal Palace is nearby but it was closed when we reached there and would only resume opening in the afternoon.
 
park opposite the Royal Palace
 
So we headed to the Independence Monument. Walking along the big open park leading to the monument was distressing cos it was so freaking hot. Nobody was at the park except us. I bet all the drivers passing by the park thought we were some crazy tourists, frying ourselves in the middle of the day under the blazing hot sun.
 
Cambodia - Vietnam Friendship Monument


Statue of the legendary former King Norodom Sihanouk, who died in 2012

 
Located at one of the city's busiest roundabouts, the Independence Monument was built in 1958 to commemorate the end of French colonial rule in Cambodia five years earlier. Post Khmer Rouge era, it has also become a memorial place dedicated to the Cambodian's patriot who died for the country.

After a couple of photos, it was time for lunch. I searched for halal restaurants in Phnom Penh on the Internet and found D'Wau Restaurant. It is located inside New York Hotel so I just followed the direction of Google map on my phone to the hotel. After walking about 30 minutes, we reached the restaurant safe and sound and hungry.

Ordered this.



And paid USD 4. Halal food in Cambodia is pretty expensive. -_-

While having lunch, I remembered someone I know who lives in Phnom Penh. I first met Arina in Turkey back in 2010. So I messaged her on Facebook asking her whereabouts cos I wasn't sure whether she's still in Phnom Penh or she already moved to somewhere else. Within minutes, I got a reply and we set the meeting to catch up. :)

we met again!

She then brought us shopping at a local department store and the Central Market.








It is a good place to find souvenirs in Phnom Penh. We met a few Malaysians shopping for Cambodian silk here. The price is quite cheap so we bought a few too. hehe..

Arina's husband picked us up afterwards and dropped me and my friend at the riverfront. We spent some time walking around the happening area before retreating to our hostel to recharge. Another day in Phnom Penh tomorrow...
 

April 20, 2014

Cambodia : Siem Reap to Phnom Penh by bus

There are a number of bus companies offering service between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh and you can purchase the ticket at nearly any guesthouse in both cities. So we asked our hostel manager to help us book the overnight bus ticket to Phnom Penh.

The price was USD 9 per person so we agreed right away.

On the way back from the Old Market, we saw a few buses parked by the road side. We were told that a shuttle would come to pick us up and took us to the bus. Apparently, there's no centralized bus station here. Or there is but maybe our bus doesn't stop there. So we peeked into the bus, thinking it might be our bus later that evening. I saw mattresses. It's gonna be a comfortable ride, I thought.

Little did we know the bus would be like this.



Cehhh.

Our seats were supposed to be the top bunk but when we got on the bus, it was already occupied by a couple of locals. I told the bus drivers but he just asked us to fill in the available bunks at the bottom. Fine! But I hate the bottom bunks cos there were no windows! Moreover, the 45 degrees vinyl seats were too close to the next person, I couldn't really move. Luckily I travelled with my girlfriend. Can't imagine if I travelled alone and had to sleep next to a pervert guy.

The bus left around midnight. I wasn't sure if the bus made any stops along the way cos I was asleep all the way to Phnom Penh. Too tired I guess.



We arrived in Phnom Penh at 6.30 am. The bus dropped us off nearby the Phnom Penh riverside.

our bus

the travel company

As soon as we got off the bus, we were swarmed by taxi and tuk-tuk drivers wanting to give us a ride. I told one of the drivers our hostel name and he didn't seem to know the location. He then turned to ask his friends and I saw some of them looking amused and smiled suspiciously. He came back to us later and offered to give us a ride for USD 3.

I didn't trust him so I google-mapped our hostel name. Turned out the hostel was just about 500 meters from where we stood. No wonder they looked amused. WTF.

Anyway, I googled the company after coming back to KL. They seem to be getting pretty bad reviews from travellers. Well.. lesson learnt for next trip. See what bus you are getting into before you book the ticket. Check out better buses like Giant Ibis or Mekong Express and you should get better service.
 

April 18, 2014

Cambodia : Siem Reap - Kampong Phluk Flooded Forest

Continuation from here...

Angkor Archaeological Park is huge, but we've seen the major sites - Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and Angkor Thom, so we thought that's enough for us.

We decided to make a move to Phnom Penh later in the evening so after breakfast we asked our hostel manager to help book the bus ticket for us. To maximize our time, we got an overnight bus which cost USD 9.

Spending the morning, we rented bicycles and just cycled around the town.



Chillaxing at Chatime. Bought my usual Taiwan plum ice tea with coconut jelly for USD 3. More expensive than Malaysia but once in a while kan.. No Starbucks here so Chatime pon ok. haha..



 What 7-Eleven? There's only 6-Eleven here.

At the same time, I was trying to find a tour company from the pamphlet I took at the hostel. I saw their tour to Kampong Phluk Flooded Forest and the price is quite reasonable. I did some research on the Internet and most said the boat charge can be expensive if you go there on your own. So I guessed taking a tour with them would be a good idea.

The address brought us to here.



So we signed up for a tour to visit Kampong Phluk Flooded Forest. The tour itinerary also includes Wat Thmie Killing Field and Artisan D'angkor. For USD 18 per person, it was a good bargain.

We were picked up at 2 pm and headed to Artisan D'angkor and Wat Thmie Killing Field before proceeding to Kampong Phluk.

Kampung Phluk is a village on the Tonle Sap, a home to families who eke out a living on one of the most abundant inland fisheries in the world. When we arrived at the boat dock, I could see that the river was rather low. January is a dry season in Cambodia but we had no choice. I just hoped we could still see the village.

But due to the low water level, the boat could hardly move at the beginning. Our boatman had to jump into the river to push the boat. Pity him.



Once we reached higher water level, the boat moved faster. But the boatman slowed down as the first houses came into view.







I could only stare at all those houses open-mouthed. Amazed by the sight of houses that were built over stilts and tower six to eight meters high.

As we went on dry season, the stilts were exposed. On rainy season when the water level is high, the stilts are covered in water giving the impression that the houses are floating.



















Men fishing. Women selling goods. Kids playing on the boat.

Seeing how these people adapted with the flooding was very interesting.

The boat ride eventually took us to the Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in Asia. Seeing the vast amounts of water in front of me, one could mistake it as sea. One thing I learnt about the lake is that when the season changes, so does the direction of its flow. From November to May, Cambodia's dry season, the Tonle Sap drains into the Mekong River at Phnom Penh. However, when heavy rains begin in June, the Tonle Sap backs up to form the massive lake.



If you hire a private boat perhaps you can wait for the stunning sunset on the lake.


boats waiting for sunset

The flooded mangrove forest around Kampong Phluk is also fascinating. Submerged for half the year, the trees have learnt to adapt and are an invaluable part of the extraordinary ecosystem there.





There are floating restaurants along the forest if you are hungry. You can also rent canoe for a trip through the mangroves but we didn't do it as it cost about USD 5.


 

 The visit definitely gave me an insight into another world and way of life. It's an amazing experience not to be missed.

Back in town, we asked to be dropped off at the Old Market for a last minute souvenir shopping and walked to the hostel.
Our bus to Phnom Penh would be leaving at 11.30 pm.
 

April 17, 2014

Cambodia : The Angkor Show - Angkor Wat

 Continuation from here ...

Our final destination on the Little Circuit was the Angkor Wat. It is the largest monument in the Angkor Archaeological Park and the best preserved, the most famous, iconic and grandest temple of all. So we saved the best for last.

Some visitors prefer to visit the temple at dawn, starting the tour as early as 5 am to watch the sun rise over the temple. We preferred to sleep so we didn't do that sunrise thing. But I saw the sunrise photos from other blogs and they are sooo beautiful!! #reasontorepeat


the temple's prime viewing spot


moat surrounding the Angkor Wat

The largest religious structure in the world, Angkor Wat was commissioned by Suryavarman II in the early 12th century. It was dedicated to the Hindu god, Vishnu, but later converted to be a Buddhist temple in late 13th century when Buddhism became the dominant religion.

Looking at the sheer scale of the temple and its grand architecture, I wondered how long it took and how many man power needed to complete this wonder. I mean, what engineering technology did they have back in 12th century?







Angkor Wat's main entrance is to the west across a stone walkway, with guardian lions marking the way.

Take a look of what's inside...








the main tower


walkway








Carvings on the wall.




bas-relief of Apsara



The main tower on the third level is the top-most part of the tour of the temple. Make sure you go up before 5 pm as they'll close the access after that. Luckily we managed to go up in time.

The tower houses four Buddha statues, each facing a different point on the compass. The locals believe that it will bring good luck to pay respect to all four Buddha images before leaving the temple.




 
It was extremely crowded inside the temple galleries but I managed to enjoy it peacefully towards the end of my visit since I was among the last visitor to leave the temple. At about 5.45 pm, the staffs began asking us to leave as the closing time was approaching but I took my own sweet time walking out, admiring the temple without the crowd.
 

Oh.. beware of the monkey! They roam freely all over the temple, and quite aggressive I tell ya.


We left the temple area after dark. I was so tired from all the walking and climbing but nevertheless, it was worth it!
If you are a fan of archaeology and historical sites, Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park is a MUST go!