Originally published on facebook РFebruary 5, 2011 at 8:36pm ·

Phnom Phen to Sihanoukville  РDay 60 Р65

We leave in the afternoon of the same day that we learn of the bridge tragedy, headed down to Sihanoukville by bus It only takes 1-1/2 more hours then the promised 4, not bad. Sihanoukville is renowned as a touristy, party, beach town, and that’s pretty much what we do there. Frequenting various beaches by day and assorted bars and restaurants at night. There is also a great selection of seafood bbq every night on the beach, cheap and tasty.¬† The main Sihanoukville beach is extremely crowded, not a spare patch of sand anywhere, everything is covered over by beach chairs which we are welcome to use as long as we purchase something from the restaurants attached. Even before we hit the beach we are swarmed by teenagers trying to sell us various “crafts” (mostly woven bracelets or beads). They won’t take no for an answer which is entertaining at first but quickly becomes straight up harassment. You say “no” they say, “maybe later”, “but no”, “ok but when you buy you make sure you buy only from me ok?”, “but I’m not going to buy anything”, “ok, but buy from me ok?”, “uh…no”, ” ok I’ll come back later”, “no don’t”….but they do anyways and you have to go through the whole dialogue again.

Once you are set up on your (purchased) beach chair and have, temporarily at least, rid yourself of teenaged salespeople, you think you’re in the clear and pull out a book, stare at the waves, shut down the mind for a second, try to get in relax beach mode. Just as you start to get “there” you are approached by people in such dire shape, you must either cry, empty your wallet or harden your heart. People missing arms or both legs or (hardest), watching a 4 year old girl leading her male relative around by a stick, he’s blind and sings for money, as soon as she let’s go of the stick he stops moving and she comes up and oh so softly, shyly asks for money. There are so many, I can’t give to everyone, so I give to no one and feel that tourist guilt. I am a privileged person, no doubt.

On day 64 we book a trip to Bamboo Island. It’s an all day tour with stops at a couple of other islands, snorkeling is the main focus, with opportunities to lay on the beach and/or have a short hike. A lunch of freshly caught bbq fish in baguette sandwich is provided (and really yummy). I try snorkeling for the first time. Having been pretty scared of the ocean up until a few years ago (yet still retaining a very healthy respect for it) this is a big step for me and I’m a bit nervous. Our first stop is offshore of a small island and is in deep water, it’s a bit tricky, the water is a little bumpy and I’m not able to get my mask on without it leaking badly so don’t get to see anything before we move on. The next stop is Bamboo Island, where we actually pull right up on the beach, it’s roasting hot and we’re sweating bullets quickly. I give Julie and Julien a mini yoga lesson because they’ve never done it before and want to try and then we hit the water with our masks. This time I’m able to get the mask fitted properly and get my first glimpses of life underwater. It creeps me out a bit, but actually I’m surprised to learn I like it…albeit cautiously and in water that isn’t over my head when standing. At one point something long and brown floats into my field of vision from the side and completely takes me by surprise, I thrash wildly in the water attempting to escape the mysterious sea creature I’ve encountered, heart pounding…I realize it’s my hair and have to stand up I’m laughing so hard at myself. Once up I realize Julie is right beside me laughing as well, she saw the whole thing. After lunch we take our snorkels over to the other side of the island and explore a little there. There is a tree with a whole bunch of flip flops stapled to its’ trunk, they must be a collection of all the single ones that end up as garbage on the beaches, I like it.

On day 65 after dinner together everyone gets on the bus to head up to Siem Reap. I stay in Sihanoukville as I am going to explore a couple other places on the southern coast before heading that way. I take myself out to a movie (The Social Network) which is playing in a “theater” it is a full size screen in a room that has pappas chairs and couches to lounge in, beer and other beverages and snacks available, and you can order pizza to be delivered, we need a place like this at home.

Sihanoukville to Kampot – day 66

I catch a 8 am minibus to Kampot, I get the very front seat (a first) it’s nice because I can see out the front window and nobody is squished up against me, however I suppose I don’t benefit quite as much much as I could as I sleep pretty much the whole way. In Kampot I have a discussion with a tuk tuk driver about the best way to get to the Phnom Chhnork caves, he swears it’s best to do it by tuk tuk (of course) I’m leaning towards renting a bike but let him talk me into the tuk tuk because I’m lazy. Wrong choice. The first part of the road is paved, no problem, but after that we turn onto a dirt road, very pot-holed, if one wheel doesn’t hit a pothole the other one will. So for an excruciating 30 minutes I am bounced, jostled, slammed and bone-jarred, my spine feels compressed within the first 2 minutes and I’m pissed at the driver for talking me into this mode of transport and at myself for falling for it.

Once we reach the cave my driver pays a boy 1,000 riel (about $0.25) to be my guide through the caves. This boy is amazing, his English skills are excellent, he knows some neat facts about the caves and the surrounding area (where he lives) and is super sweet. He looks about 10 but is actually 14, I just want to feed him for the next 5 years and then send him to college, he is so bright. He shows me the caves, pointing out formations of rock that have names. Once we are at the top of the path through the caves he asks me if I want to climb down by a different route, over rocks and such…uh..duh…ya…of course I do! So we set out, rock climbing, steeper and a bit more treacherous then I imagined, me in my running shoes and him in his plastic flip flops. He’s apparently part mountain goat as he hops nimbly from one rock to another, barely using his hands, I on the other hand, feel like an ungainly oaf and sweaty besides, but he is sweet and patient and helpful. Most importantly he gets me through it safely. I give him a dollar tip and my big thanks, he tells me I am a very nice lady and I should come back in 6 years to marry him, lol! I have to brave the spine disintegrating tuk tuk ride back into town, ouch.

For the afternoon and evening I wander around the town, it is built along a river and the riverfront plays a large part in the characteristic of the town. Many of the colonial style buildings have been restored or at least well maintained. This is a quiet little place, there is not much going on but I find a bar for dinner that has a pool table and I hang out there for the evening. On my walk back to my hotel 4 dogs come charging out of a dark alley right towards me, barking furiously, scary! I turn around and threaten them with my, ever present, 1.5 liter water bottle. This causes then to stop their charge but they follow me for a couple blocks barking the whole time, it’s quite unnerving and I’m shaking with adrenaline.

Kampot to Kep to Rabbit Island – day 67

It’s only about an hour bus ride from Kampot to Kep where I buy a boat ticket and hang around the town for an hour or so until the boat is ready to leave. It’s about a 1/2 hour ride in a large longtail on bumpy water to get to Rabbit Island. Rabbit Island is basically for tourists, there are about 6-8 guesthouses along the same stretch of beach, each guesthouse provides 2 types of (quite rustic) bungalows, with bathroom or without, and have a restaurant. There being no real differences between the guesthouses I choose one and spoil myself with the attached bathroom, squat toilet and all. I spend the rest of this day and the next (day 68) chilling on the beach, there is no nightlife on the island and seems to attract mostly couples so it’s a nice opportunity to get some alone time after being with other people so much. Restorative, I like it. I could have happily stayed here another day or 2 but the rest of Cambodia beckons. Onward.

Rabbit Island to Phnom Phen – day 69 / Phnom Phen to Siem Reap- day 70

I leave the island around noon, catch a bus in Kep and am back in Phnom Phen around 6pm. I return to the Okay Guesthouse and run into Julie there, she’s just arrived back from Siem Reap and fills me in about some things there. We spend the night hanging out together, both of us are moving in different directions the next day. I book my bus ticket from PP to Siem Reap leaving at 1:30pm. I plan to spend the morning at the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda complex as it was closed when I was in PP previously due to the water festival. The complex is quite near the guesthouse so the next morning I give myself a couple hours to explore.

I enter the Palace area first, the grounds are impeccably manicured, not a leaf out of place. The buildings are beautiful, inside and out, with lovely roof tiles of rich gold, forest green, and royal blue. The main building that we are allowed to see seems to be a formal receiving hall. We are not supposed to take pictures in here but I sneak a few anyways. I love the colour scheme, it is mostly gold tones. The walls are painted a pale blue with a detailed hand-painted repeat pattern of 2 tones of gold, it looks so perfect you would think it’s stenciled but on closer inspection I realize it is not. The window shutters are a (slightly darker then fire hydrant) red tone with another, simpler gold pattern painted on. There are massive chandeliers spaced along the mural ceiling. The floor is made of 6×6 tiles that form a repeating pattern with a French Colonial feel, this pattern is duplicated onto the massive carpet that runs through the center of the room leading down to the receiving area. This area is all golds, throne, couches, chairs, tables and lamps, all gilded and glittering. It all sounds a little gaudy but surprisingly was not, it was quite stunning and lovely, very delicate and fresh, a sumptuous vision.

On my way towards the Silver Pagoda I see a building that is covered in scaffolding and draped in that green mesh fabric (what is that anyways?). Curious, I poke my head inside and see a pretty little building in an obviously French style. Aha, this must be the Napoleon Pavilion. The pavilion was originally erected for Empress Eugenie for the inauguration of the Suez Canal in 1869. Afterwards Emperor Napoleon III presented the building to King Norodom. The building was reassembled at the royal palace in 1876 and is used today as an art gallery. It’s obviously under restoration which is good, it needs it, but is still quite charming. I creep inside the drapery and take photos, I suppose I could have gone inside the actual building, there was no one to stop me, but caution prevented me.

I cross through a gateway to reach the Silver Pagoda side. The gate leads to a courtyard filled with large potted bonsai. There is a small temple that I enter, on the alter is a statue of a goat lying down, first time I’ve seen that, I don’t know the significance but I like it. Around all the edges of the courtyard is a covered walkway the walls of which are covered with what appear to be quite old painting, the are faded and worn away and depict many different types of scenes, from everyday activities to royal processions to religious procedures. There are a couple of large stupas and a big statue of Napoleon of a horse.

Inside the Silver Pagoda (once again photos not allowed, once again I sneak some) it is much like many other pagodas I have visited, with a few exceptions. Firstly the floor is literally made of silver plated tiles (hence the pagodas name) they are quite pretty with delicate etchings of fluer-de-lis but in an unfortunate state of disrepair even though most of the floor is covered over with cheap red carpet. Secondly there is a massive amount of wealth in this room, the main focus in fact is an almost life size Buddha made of solid gold, he weighs in at about 90kgs and is covered in 2086 diamonds, the largest of which is 25 carats, holy bling! Behind him on a massive gold coloured pedestal is a small (about 16-18″) seated Buddha that is made of Baccarat Crystal, though due to its greenish colour I would have guessed jade. There are cases edging the room filled with various gifts to the pagoda, mostly small statues with various precious adornments.

Back in the courtyard and on my way out of the complex I find a crazy beautiful tree (Shorea Robusta Roxb). It looks like a normal tree but has these amazing flowers growing vine-like out of the trunk. They smell absolutely divine and perhaps they are considered so because at the base of each of the trees there is a Buddha shrine.

I’m out of time so head back to the guesthouse. I’m super glad I took the time to come back to PP and see the Palace and Pagoda, I could have gone straight from Kep to Siem Reap but what I saw today was well worth the stopover. I arrive in Siem Reap and meet up with Marco, Gianni and Aaron all of whom I met on Phu Quoc Island in Vietnam. We have dinner (“happy” pizza, but it didn’t work) and an early night, heading off to Angkor Archeological Site in the early morning.

Siem Reap (Angkor Archeological Site) – day 71

In the early morning of day 71 I meet up with Marco and Gianni, we rent bikes and are off towards the temple complex. We buy our passes, Marco and I both choose 3 days, Gianni goes for just one day. The first temple we come across is the famous Angkor Wat, it is such a recognizable and iconic vision that there is no mistaking what it is. Marco and I stop to take pictures of it from across the moat and Gianni rides on ahead. We promptly lose him for the rest of the day. It’s a good thing we bought those 3 day passes as we spend over 3 hours inside Angkor Wat alone. Mind you it’s a massive complex, the temple itself is 1km square and then there are all the smaller outlying buildings, bridges and grounds. Because it’s our first temple we probably explore almost every inch, we climb up stairs and down, wander through hallways like mazes, walk along the outside ledges, make prayers to Buddhas (mostly headless thanks to the Khamer Rouge) and donations for the incense provided and of course, we take an absolute ton of photos. You can (and we do) climb on almost everything, anywhere, unless they have closed it due to unsafe conditions. This must increase the rate of erosion, after all it is predominately sandstone which is pretty soft, so I wonder if at some point in the future more rules will come into effect, glad I have visited now when I can reach out and touch the detail of the carvings, run my fingers along the surface and enjoy the experience tactily as well as visually. Marco is super fun to be with and I really enjoy his exuberance and enthusiasm as we explore. I am so pleased to have run into him and his brother again. Both of them are so positive and energetic, it’s really lovely. We climb upstairs to the highest (and most sacred) part of Angkor Wat, they make me cover my shoulders here, the only rules I encounter in all three days of exploration, and the view is amazing, all jungle and trees, dotted here and there you can see bits of other temples.

After Angkor Wat we pedal up the road a couple more kms and pass through the South Gate of Angkor Thom. Leading up to the gate is a bridge with (mostly headless) Buddhas lining it. The top of the Gate is crowned with 4 giant faces, each one pointing in one of the cardinal directions. It is just a taste of what is to come as we approach Bayon. There are 37 towers still standing here, most of them are crowned with the same 4 carved faces. This might sound repetitive but each face is slightly different, the subtleties keep me interested. I think Bayon may have been one of my favorite temples, there is something wonderfully mysterious about it. We can climb right up to the faces and touch them. There is debate about who (either a God or King) the face is meant to represent but whoever he is his face(s) exudes a lovely serenity and strength. I adore this place.

We spend an hour or two at Bayon and then head over to Phnom Bakheng to watch the sunset (along with hundreds of other people it turns out). On the way we are distracted by a couple of elephants, for $10 each we could get a ride on them but instead we just chose to say hello. I’ve never met an elephant before and am excited but once up close I realize I’m intimidated, they are big. Slowly I am able to get in close and give a snuggle, I also get sneezed on, yuck. Marco is not so shy and gets right in there. We feed them bananas and they get greedy, trunks groping us and searching, reaching until we give them them all. We tear ourselves away and resume our mission to catch the sunset. We leave our bikes at the bottom and hike up the hill and then the many tall yet shallow stairs of the temple to reach the top. We find a spot amongst the crowds and befriend a group of young monks. We chat with them and watch the sun go down, it’s not a fabulous sunset but still a once in a lifetime experience.

Back on the bikes we head towards town, it gets dark quickly we don’t have lights and there is a lot of traffic. We hitch rides by hanging onto the sides of tuk tuks, it’s easy, there is so much traffic that we are going fairly slow, we let go if they get up too much speed. We make it back to town, finally find Gianni who met a Japanese girl and spent the day exploring with her, we get cleaned up and head out for dinner meeting up with Aaron on the way. We find a group of street stalls near Pub Street and the Old Market area, it super cheap. A couple of young boys come along looking mournful and asking for food. They are sweet when they are asking but after I agree to buy dinner for them and order it they start dishing a bit of attitude, nice. We head to Pub Street and the Angkor What? bar for a few drinks before turning in for an early night, Marco and I are going to see sunrise over Angkor Wat in the morning, taking a tuk tuk this time to be able to cover more ground on our second day.

Siem Reap (Angkor Archeological Site) – day 72

I don’t want to be redundant and bore you with tons of description of temples here so, briefly and in order – sunrise viewed from the grounds of Angkor Wat (unspectacular unfortunately), Banteay Kdei (small, looks like it’s made out of red mud bricks, pretty eroded), Sras Srang (very large water reservoir), Ta Phrom (trees growing out of the stones, another of my favorite places, in the top 4 for sure), Pre Rup, East Mabon, Banteay Samre, Rolous Group (Bakong, Preah Ko, Lolei). Once again it’s lovely to explore with Marco, fun, lots of photos taken. But feel pretty “templed out” by the end of it. I decide to take the next day off from temples and explore a bit of Siem Reap.

Back in town that evening we all meet up and head out for a crazy night on Pub Street. We meet tons of people, many buckets are consumed, dancing on tables ensues and it ends at a very late/early hour. Leaving the bar with Aaron, who has kindly offered to walk me home as it’s quite late, we are mobbed by a group of kids. They grab my arms and pin them behind me, at first I don’t realize what’s going on, thinking they are just playing around and then I realize, they are trying to reach inside my bra where I’ve stashed my money for safety, uh no. I feel like the hulk as (with mighty effort) I pull my arms from their grasp and protect my chest. Aaron is distracted as they have stolen a t-shirt he had won at the bar from his pocket and are trying for his wallet next. We escape them but both feel quite unnerved, we can barely process what just happened, disbelieving, were we really just mugged by 8 year olds? Kids don’t seem so sweet now. So glad Aaron was with me for the walk home after that experience.

Siem Reap – day 73

After the late night adventures of the night before I sleep in and then spend much of the remaining day trying to catch up and writing some of these earlier journal entries. In the evening I head out to the night market and find a couple gifts for others and myself. Have a quiet dinner and run into the boys, they are headed out for another night on the town, I’m out, not up for it. Planning on another temple day tomorrow, I’ll be on my own this time.

Siem Reap (Angkor Archeological Site) – day 74

I hire a tuk tuk for the day as my first stop is at Banteay Srei, about 23kms away from the main site. It’s also known as the Citadel of Women, not because women built it but because the carvings are so detailed it was assumed that only someone with small, delicate hands could do such fine work. Returning to the main temple area I visit Ta Som, Neak Pean, and the vast complex of Angkor Thom. I have actually seen part of Angkor Thom before on the first day when I visited Bayon, today I check out everything else. Angkor Thom was a large moated royal city, measuring about three kilometers on a side. Within the complex walls were the royal palace and residences for all the king’s family, generals and priests. these were mostly made of wood so have vanished entirely now. At the very center is the state temple, the enigmatic Bayon. You enter this city through one of five large gates. Each gate is topped with four heads, facing each cardinal direction.

First up I visit Phimeanakas, it is a small temple with an intriguing legend behind it. The legend relates that a nine-headed serpent genie once inhabited the golden pavilion on top of the Phimeanakas. Each night, the king ascended to the top of the temple, where the genie would appear to him disguised as a woman. The king was required to make love to the genie every night before joining his wives and concubines in the palace. If the king missed just one night, it was believed he would die. Uh huh…..sounds like a ‘guy’ story to me.

Baphuon temple was under restoration, and apparently has been, off and on, since the 1960’s. No entry allowed so I walk around the outside of it’s massive perimeter. It’s like a man-made mountain or pyramid made of stone. Apparently it was originally topped by a bronze shrine. It also has a massive reclining Buddha on top, made out of many individual stone blocks, this Buddha is not original to the structure it was built of stones from other fallen areas of Baphuon sometime in the 16th century. It’s almost an optical illusion, it looks like a random pile of stones and I can’t see it at first, but if I stare long enough the Buddha starts to show it’s shape. From here I walk over to the Terrace of the Elephants. The terrace extends for 300 meters (nearly 1,000 feet) from the Baphuon to the Terrace of the Leper King. The terrace is decorated with a row of elephants along its facade. The Terrace of the Leper King lies immediately north of the Elephant Terrace. The name of the terrace comes from a striking statue found on the platform of the terrace. Exactly who the statue represents is something of a mystery. It may be a king, or one of the gods.

Unfortunately I have caught a sickness of some sort and throughout the day I feel progressively crappier. Halfway through the day and I’m sweaty and my nose is running and my brain is in a fog and achy. I fight through the day but some of what I see is vague and by the time I’m at Baphuon I’m exhausted. I make it back to my guesthouse by mid afternoon and collapse into bed for some sleep, I don’t leave until the next day when I feel much, much better.

Siem Reap – day 75

I spend the day buying gifts in the markets and wandering around the town. I buy a bus ticket to Thailand for the next day, my time in SE Asia is almost up.

Siem Reap to Thailand (Ko Tao, Ko Phangan, Bangkok) – day 76 to day 90

The bus from Cambodia to Thailand is no problem, it’s just the border crossing that takes forever, 3 hours waiting around in the sun. Sucked. I get into Bangkok with about 1 hour before my bus leaves to take me overnight down south where I’ll be able to catch a ferry to Ko Tao the next day. All goes according to plan and I arrive on Ko Tao fairly early in the morning. Unfortunately it’s been raining a lot here and my choice of beaches is limited as many roads are inaccessible. The only beaches I can get to aren’t really beaches at all because the water is so high. Not really what I’m looking for for my last couple weeks, I just want to chill. I think about it for a while, and the processing is pretty slow as I have been traveling by bus and boat for about 24 hours at this point, and decide to head over to Ko Phangan. I’ve been there before and went to Ko Tao to try some thing a little different but it seems fate has brought me back.

Arriving on Ko Phanghan is great, it’s like coming home, I know where everything is and how much a moto taxi should cost me to do what I want and I want to go to Bottle Beach. My moto taxi takes me to Chalok Lam where I know I can get a longtail boat to get me to BB, but I am out of luck, no boats and I am told that BB is not open for the season yet. Hell, I’m feeling pretty frustrated at this point, it’s been a disappointing day, nothing has gone to plan. I take a few deep breaths, suck it up and decide to let whatever will happen, happen. I ask the driver to take me somewhere on the west side of the island, I tell him how much I would like to pay for a room and he (wonderful man) delivers me to a guesthouse, with bungalows and a lovely slice of beach. I’m on Haad Chao Phao. I spend a few days here getting in some beach time and get in touch with Jason, a BB institution (he lives there practically year round) who I met when I visited before. Jason lets me know that BB will be open within a couple days and offers to pick me up on his way there. Everything goes to plan this time (yay) and I get to spend my last few days back in the bosom of my BB family. Wonderful to see the boys who work there again, I am remembered and life is sweet. Am sad to leave when I do, BB has a way of making you lose track of time and allows you just to be in the moment it’s easy to get lost here, but I have to get up to Bangkok for my flight home.

I take the ferry to get me back to the mainland, then to the train station where my train is delayed by 2 hours. In addition to the 4 hours that I spent waiting because I was very early I spend 6 hours hanging out in the station. Before I knew the train was delayed I had some dinner and a beer, and then another. Once I knew of the delay I was bored to tears and bought another beer at the stall in the station, this led to a few more and I met a bunch of people who were all waiting (and drinking) as well. We all hang out, someone brings out and ipod with speakers and we have a party right there beside the tracks, what else could we do? Finally on the train in my bunk for the overnight trip to BKK I sleep very well. I arrive in BKK in the morning and head to Soi Rambuttri (right near Kho San Road) and find a room for my last night, I spend the rest of my day (my last day in SE Asia) buying a few more gifts, getting massages (note the plural) and a pedicure. Perfect.