I’ve been in Phnom Penh for about five days and just like my time in the last couple of places that I’ve been, the time just seems to have flown by. We got here on Friday and we are leaving tomorrow (Tuesday) for Sihanoukville. Sihanoukville is a coastal town in Cambodia. I was there back when I made my way through the country about three years ago, but if the last few cities are any indication; I probably won’t recognize Sihanoukville very much.

 

Wow! I can’t believe it’s been so long since I’ve made a post to my blog. If my math is correct, it’s been something like two weeks since my last entry. I’m writing this about a week and a half from my time in PP, so the entry won’t contain a lot of details. I really want to get caught up to the location I’m at now.

 

Phnom Penh was fun if not really that interesting. I guess the fact that I was traveling with Sofiya made it different from my usual itinerary when I get into a city. Just having someone else around doesn’t put a rush on seeing things or getting to the next destination too quickly. We did go to some places, but generally speaking we just lived in the city for about a week. The days we wandered around and the nights we usually spent on the waterfront and going out for dinner. Except for the tuk-tuk drivers who were relentless in trying to get us to ride with them, the rest of the people were kind.

 

We left Phnom Penh on Sunday and got to the coast that afternoon. Sihanoukville really hadn’t changed too much and it was nice to get away from the chaos of the big city.

We were in Battambang for two days. Although I can’t say that we did anything noteworthy, I still had a great time. Most of our time there was either walking around the city or going out to eat. Our first night after we dropped off our backpacks we headed to the riverfront to get dinner. The city itself isn’t very touristy, but they appear to be trying to cater to white people. There are a lot of cafes and an okay night market, but the crowds are small which makes it easy to move around. With the lack of tourists dinner went very fast, we sat down and in five minutes we were eating.

Just a couple of photos from Battambang, Cambodia
Just a couple of photos from Battambang, Cambodia

 

Our second day we walked around the city and bought our bus tickets to Phnom Phenn for the next day. Battambang is nice, but there just wasn’t a lot of things to do so I think two nights is about right. We did kind of ‘Western out’ for dinner though. Instead of taking the more traditional route and getting something Cambodian to eat, we decided that it was just time for pizza. Sometimes western food is just a requirement. 🙂

 

One of the streets in Battambang, Cambodia
One of the streets in Battambang, Cambodia

We left at 8 in the morning for the bus station and pulled into the capital at about 3. So far Phnom Phenn seems better than it did the last time I was here. I think the single most important fact that makes me feel different about the city is that I’m traveling with Sofiya. I think that she is making all the difference. It’s going to be difficult to see her leave when she heads to Thailand in a couple of weeks.

 

 

Sofiya and I left Siem Reap early in the morning on Wednesday. We were going to be picked up for the boat ride to Battambang at around 6 in the morning. Since I like taking a shower before I go anywhere, that meant that I woke up at about 5. None of that is really important except possibly for context of what trans folded as the day progressed.

We were picked up from the guesthouse at about 6, and then dropped off at a staging area. There was something like about fifty people all being dropped off in this one area in front of a travel ‘shop.’ Even though we had to wait for about an hour I was still looking forward to a relaxing trip down the Tonlé Sap River. I was a little bit nervous though because Sofiya was going along and I had convinced her that it would be a better experience taking the boat than taking the bus.  So after about an hour a bus pulls up to take us to the pier. Everything would have been fine if the bus fit fifty people, but they were using a bus that seated seventeen. Seriously they were forcing us to sit five across with only four seats. The end result was that they stuff about thirty-five of us in this bus for about an hour-long ride to the pier. I’m not really sure, maybe it’s my age, but I get pissed when I’m treated like cattle and that’s what it felt like stuffed into this bus. Anyway, we finally make it to the pier only to find out that they are over-stuffing the boat as well. The boat probably seats about fifty and by the time Sofiya and I get on there are no seats left. We kind of try to find a spot that we could call our own for the eight-hour ride but with no luck… again, I’m a little pissed. The boat leaves the pier and we are underway for about an hour and Sofiya decides that we should sit on top of the boat. I didn’t want to because the sun was blazing hot and I didn’t think I could take it, but in all honesty she really made the best decision of the day. We went up to the roof found our backpacks and made a place to stretch out. Then we used our umbrellas to protect us from the sun, and because it was so hot only about two other people braved the roof which meant that she and I had the area completely to ourselves. It was both relaxing and romantic just dozing off in the shade of the umbrellas listening to the chugging of the old boat as it made its way down the river.

 

The people that lived on the river seemed very poor, but nearly every child we passed would wave at us.
The people that lived on the river seemed very poor, but nearly every child we passed would wave at us.
At one point our boat stopped for a break and two boats filled with Cambodians came up. Both of their boats were packed.
At one point our boat stopped for a break and two boats filled with Cambodians came up. Both of their boats were packed.
Water villages dotted the the whole trip along the river.
Water villages dotted the the whole trip along the river.

To give an example of how crowded the boat was, it was forced to go very slow because if the driver took a turn too fast, the boat would lean so much that it felt that it was going to capsize. A few times they would ask people to sit on one side of the boat or another. Again, maybe my age, but I felt that it was very irresponsible for the tour company and the captain of the boat to risk it because of their greed.

 

This was the second packed boat that was waiting for us to leave the restaurant. I can't say for sure, but it looked like they were heading somewhere special with the way they were dressed.
This was the second packed boat that was waiting for us to leave the restaurant. I can’t say for sure, but it looked like they were heading somewhere special with the way they were dressed.
We passed probably a hundred people fishing on the river. As the sun began to set I loved the silhouettes of them on the rilver.
We passed probably a hundred people fishing on the river. As the sun began to set I loved the silhouettes of them on the rilver.
Just some villagers traveling the Tonlé Sap River.
Just some villagers traveling the Tonlé Sap River.

With all the problems, I’ve got to say that the day started really poorly, but turned into one of favorite experiences so far.

 

Fishermen setting nets along the bank of the river.
Fishermen setting nets along the bank of the river.
Sofiya watching the sun set.
Sofiya watching the sun set.

We got into Battambang kind of late, maybe about 6, which meant that it was nearly dark as the boat pulled up to the dock. I had reserved a room at a hotel that gave free rides from the pier so Sofiya and I were in a tuk-tuk minutes after getting our bags. It was very nice not to haggle with a tuk-tuk driver after the long ride down the river.

 

Battambang is a nice city, and even though I was told that the city is the second largest in Cambodia, it really feels small and comfortable though. We would end up staying for two nights.

This is the seventh day that I’ve been in Siem Reap and it has been very surprising how fast the time has gone by. It seems just like a day or two ago that I arrived somewhat wide-eyed from the changes that made the city almost unrecognizable from the time I was here before. I’m not sure what makes it so different, I don’t think that the buildings are newer or anything substantial like that. I mean I recognize some of the restaurants and the basics of the old part of the town. I’m beginning to think that it is my attitude that is different. When I was here before the first thing that happened was a run-in with some drunk tuk-tuk drivers. Maybe from that moment on I looked at the city in a very negative light and it made for a poor experience. This time the opposite has been true, we arrived to very pleasant tuk-tuk drivers, a very nice guesthouse, and an almost perfect experience.

During my early morning walk I was watching some of the boat racers practicing. I think these were the guys that saw me photographing them and raised their oars and yelled. They were very proud of how they were doing and that someone was photographing them.
During my early morning walk I was watching some of the boat racers practicing. I think these were the guys that saw me photographing them and raised their oars and yelled. They were very proud of how they were doing and that someone was photographing them.
I just wanted to add a photo of what Siem Reap looks like in the day.
I just wanted to add a photo of what Siem Reap looks like in the day.
I love photos of people being people. There is something so special about a photo like this.
I love photos of people being people. There is something so special about a photo like this.
Just another photo of Siem Reap in the morning.
Just another photo of Siem Reap in the morning.

As I mentioned this is the seventh day here and it will be my last full day. Tomorrow Sofiya (I’ve been spelling her name wrong this whole time) and I will be leaving for what we think will be Batambang(sp) by boat, then to Phnom Penh, and ending in Sikouville(sp) on the coast. The rest of the group left last night and has just arrived in Phnom Penh this morning. The plan is that we will probably meet up with them in a few days on the coast. It’s just the basic plan though and who knows how it will actually unfold.

Boat racers practicing before the races started later in the day.
Boat racers practicing before the races started later in the day.

Since the first night that Sofiya saw me fall down the riverbank in Don Det we have been getting very close. I think she just felt sorry for someone who can’t walk a straight line and has taken it upon herself to make sure that I don’t walk into a wall or out into traffic. J All joking aside, whatever her reasons are for hanging out with me I feel very lucky. She has made my last couple of weeks some of the best I’ve had on this trip.

A shot of the crowd once the festival started.
A shot of the crowd once the festival started.
The start of one of the many races.
The start of one of the many races.
A little kid watching the races.
A little kid watching the races.

This morning I headed out to see the city about 7 for two reasons, the first was to take photos and the second was to get some exercise. I have been kind of lazy the last month (or two) and I think I’m starting to gain some weight. It took me so long to get to my current weight that the thought of putting it back on has me a little bit terrified. I guess it’s time that I start fasting again. L Anyway, as I was walking around the old city center the area beside the river was packed with people, well not really packed, but there was a lot of people getting ready for a festival. I’m not sure what the festival is for, but there are street vendors everywhere, some of the roads have been closed and people are rowing traditional boats. I was told that there was going to be boat races, so maybe later today the races will start. Hopefully I’ll be able to get some photos.  I also need to get the tickets for the boat to Batambang.

 

Sofiya and I decided to take a walk around the city at around five in the afternoon. The timing seemed to be about perfect the sun was still up, but the heat was dying down. The boat races were in full steam and the streets were packed with people. I don’t usually like large groups of people, but for some reason I had a very good time. The images I upload will probably give a better idea of what it was like.

 

 

My second day in Siem Reap was spent going to Angkor Wat with Sophie. We decided to rent bicycles and see the temples by way of bike. The last time I was here I went by tuk-tuk and although the tuk-tuk is faster, there was nothing more special that riding a bike through the park along tree lined narrow roads. It was hot, but the shade of the trees made the heat a little bit more bearable. We left the guesthouse at about 8 and got to the park in about ten or fifteen minutes. After a small breakfast from a street vendor we went into Angkor Wat. I don’t know if people need to know the layout of the park that is known as Angkor Wat or not, but for anyone that doesn’t know, Angkor Wat is kind of a catchphrase for a large park that has, I think, hundreds of temples. It is also the same name of the best known city in the park. In other words, the park with lots of temples is known as Angkor Wat and in the park is a large city/temple that is also Angkor Wat. We spent about an hour walking through Angkor Wat (temple) and then headed out for the rest of the day. It was a lot of fun and although we didn’t see as many temples as we could have if we had taken a tuk-tuk, I had way more fun.

Jose, one of the guys that I've been traveling with. I caught him when he just woke up and trying to smile.
Jose, one of the guys that I’ve been traveling with. I caught him when he just woke up and trying to smile.
Obligatory photo of me at the main site, Angkor Wat.
Obligatory photo of me at the main site, Angkor Wat.
Children swimming in the park. It looked like a lot of fun.
Children swimming in the park. It looked like a lot of fun.
Sophie on her bike earlier in the day.
Sophie on her bike earlier in the day.
I love the way the trees seem to engulf the buildings.
I love the way the trees seem to engulf the buildings.

We ended up not getting back to the guest house until about 7:30 in the night.  I was so sore and tired that when we pulled the bikes into the place where we rented them I thought I would cry for joy. During our ride around the park we ended up going very far from the city. We were so far that it took about an hour of straight bike riding to get back. That’s an hour of riding when we had been riding the whole day. I also have to mention that Sophie was so unaware of the cars and traffic around us that I was terrified that she was going to get hit. It was about 7pm and dark, and there is Sophie checking her map on the bike in the middle of the lane. Cars are speeding by and she just didn’t seem to care. I have to admit that although I was scared for her, I was also very impressed how she owned the lane. At one point when we finally got into the city, we were riding along with the cars in what can best be described as a traffic jam. It’s dark and try to remember that this isn’t the US, where rules are followed, this is a free for all of a mix of vehicles all trying their best to get in front of the car ahead of them. One time Sophie and I are kind of riding together, I’m actually behind her, but we are together. We come up on a big truck that decided that they want to enter traffic so I kind of back off, they are just moving forward. Sophie though stands her ground and almost forces the truck back off the street. It was scary and funny at the same time. I ended up riding on the side of the road but I could see her up ahead with the truck behind her and surrounded by cars. She’s got some balls.

So it’s the last night I’m in Don Det. Originally I had planned on being here for only two nights, but it turned out to be for four nights. It’s just so pretty here that it’s hard to leave. There are a few similarities between Don Det and the Gilli Islands south of Bali in Indonesia. When I was at the Gilli Islands it was one of the best places I’ve ever been for relaxing. It was so good that I didn’t want to leave when I did. So now I’m here in a place that is very similar, but with it’s own special feel. There are no cars allowed on the island, there are scooters though, and the town just has this really great vibe. About half the island is for the tourists, and the other half is mostly farms. The last couple of days I’ve walked around the island just to get a look at the whole thing. Yesterday morning I went by myself, and last night I went with Sophie. We had a great time walking along the narrow path in near complete darkness.

A young boy leading a cow.
A young boy leading a cow.
Loved this photo of the water buffalo. There was something so serene that almost makes me wish for a simpler life.
Loved this photo of the water buffalo. There was something so serene that almost makes me wish for a simpler life.

As I write this I’ve been in Cambodia for three nights. I left Don Det with no clue of a firm destination and decided to travel with the group that I’ve been with for about a week and a half. They’ve been great to be around and it just made sense to me to stick with them at least a little bit longer. Three of the group have moved on, and we gained one at the Cambodian border. Eventually I’ll probably be heading the  coast of Cambodia before I make it into Vietnam, but who knows for sure. My visa for Vietnam starts on December first, so I still have about ten days before it’s valid.

Sophie. So cute. :)
Sophie. So cute. :)
Boat going by the restaurant at sunset at Don Det.
Boat going by the restaurant at sunset at Don Det.

The trip to Siem Reap from Don Det was a little bit of a nightmare. I’ve had worse experiences, but with high heat of the midday sun, it wasn’t a lot of fun time. It seems that the border everyone wants money from the tourists. Leaving Laos you must pay $30, the next stop is a ‘quarantine checkpoint’ and they want $1. After that, at the Cambodia border they want $30, then to leave the border you need a bus which is another $15. In the end, with our group of four, we were forced to share our money. I made it though to the bus ticket before I ran out of money, two other people ran out earlier. I gave them what I had left, and the other guy helped them too. When we went to buy the bus tickets to Siem Reap, nobody had any money left at all. So we made a deal with the bus driver that he would stop at an ATM so we could get some money to pay him. The ATM we stopped at wouldn’t give me any money, and I got the message to contact the issuing bank… Damn. So David, one of the guys I’m traveling with paid for my ticket and then gave me $100 to make sure that I could survive until I straightened out the situation. The next day I called the bank and they told me that there wasn’t anything wrong with the card, and I was able to get money, so it worked out… but for a day I was worried and very embarrassed.