Sunday, July 05, 2009

Leaving, Battambang, Temples & Thailand...

Time to leave the beach.

After a wonderful month and a bit at the project it was time to leave, so after a busy, sweaty morning making a postcard stand for the project (not bad with a budget of $5) the kids and staff all said farewell before lunch (no pics yet).

It was more emotional than I expected, lots of the kids had made (or helped with) little 'thank you' signs and drawings that they all held up before rushing over for hugs. (I swear that it was sweat dripping down my face, honest).
Everyone had been so great and the whole experience was very special; highly recommended.

Next stop Battambang (pr; 'Bong'), Cambodia's second city, but still a fairly quiet place, some nice french houses on the riverfront - which sadly is the sole preserve of phone and copy shops, with the odd hardware store thrown in... not a cafe in sight.

Around Battambang.

Went for another jaunt in the countryside to see the ever-present combination of caves and temples, this time with fruit bats and the bamboo train as well.

Drove out of town in a tuk tuk to the 'boat hill' (so-called 'cos it looks like a boat... riiiight).
Parked at the foot of the hill and was led up by a young guide to the temples at the top of this hill.

A long steep, sweaty climb brought us to a series of caves and temples. The Khmer Rouge used the caves as a quick and cheap way of killing and disposing of the undesirable (educated) elements of society - people were thrown throgh holes in the the cave roofs to fall to their death.
These days monks, nuns and pilgrims all pray for the victims in shrines housed in the caves, the bones having been collected and placed in memorials on site.
One of the caves houses a large reclining buddah.

Lotus ponds are everywhere, providing buds and flowers for decoration and temple offerings, emergency hats for the wet season and a tasty(ish) snack of the seed pods(?) which are revealed and mature after the flower dies.

Bamboo Train.

Described in the Rough Guide as 'one of the all-time classic rail journeys' - the bamboo train is more 'fun' than 'classic' consisting of a 20 minute ride along rickety rails on a bamboo platform on wheels (below). The fun part is that when you meet another 'train' going the other direction, one has to be unloaded, dismantled and removed from the track to enable the other to pass. Priority is given to whoever has the larger load; 4 passengers beat 3; a motorbike beats a couple of sacks; and a hobbled water buffalo trumps them all (full picture sequence here).

Moving on, we headed for Seam Reap, the base for trips to the temples of Angkor and beyond.
Found a reasonable hotel, after much faffing about in a tuk tuk, but no pool.
It was while we were here that CCPP bought the rice that we had been raising money for, a total of 5000 kilos, which will keep the kids and their families fed for some time. Many thanks.

Angkor Wat

Like other great temple cities that i've visited (Tikal, Carnak, Petra, etc) Angkor Wat is still stunning on a second vist, and it's so big that there was still a lot of new sights.

We spent 2 days at the main temple site; on the first day we hired bicycles - which is definitely the best way to see the temples on the 'small circuit'. Due to some map-reading errors on my part, we had a bit of a detour on the way there, meaning we rode about 9km before we even got to the first temple.

(angkor wat)

The increase in tourist numbers over the past few years means that there are even more hawkers and beggers outside and now, inside the temples too, meaning that ecery time you stop you're immediately surrounded be hoards of cambodians of every age wanting to sell you drinks, books, scarves, postcards etc. Not quite as peaceful as it was in 2000.

(Ta Prohm)

On the way back, at the end of a long, hot day it started to rain (as it did every day around 4pm), big, heavy rain which wasn't about to stop, so we carried on, soaked to the skin - only 10km back to town... Then, oh joy, a puncture!
So, the last 6km in the pouring rain, on bumpy roads full of holes, with a flat back tyre.
Every day an adventure, nothing is ever straightforward here.

(Angkor Wat moat)

The following day we took a Tuk Tuk around the 'big circuit' with a man called Ang.
Not the best Tuk Tuk (or driver) in the world - a day of fear as he hurtled along the bumpy tracks in the north of Angkor, constantly feeling as if we were going to either be thrown out or tipped over...
Still, we survived, and saw some of the more remote sites, all of which were new to me.
Lots more pictures here, and here.

Day three, and another Tuk Tuk, this time Mr Borai's 'Famous Rock n Roll Tuk Tuk', fully equipeed with DVD player, speakers and karaoke mics. Woo hoo.
A good choice for the 50km,2hr ride up to Kbal Spean, a river to the north with rock carvings in in the riverbed. Beautiful mountain forests and a shower under the waterfall.
Sadly the authorities seem to have limited the amunt of access allowed as the walk to the river was 3 times longer than the walk at the river (either that or my guidebook is a little misleading - or just wrong).

(Kbal Spean)

(kbal Spean)


On the way back we visited Bantey Srey, an exquisite little temple in the forest, small, but with the finest carvings of all the temples in the area. Probably one for the afficionado, as it's a fair way from Seam Reap/Angkor Wat.

more photos here.

Had to go to the Thai border to get a new visa - 4 hours each way, for 2 and a half minutes in Thailand.
Sneaky bus company only sells one way tickets from seam reap to the border... Why?
Because they charge a normal $4 on the way out, and a criminal $10 on the way back, as the only other option is a taxi, which by coincidence is $10 per person too...
Also, everyone i asked had paid a different amount for their visas.
Most irregular...
I hate border towns.

When Fija left for Phnom Penh I moved to the Hotel Tanei, $8 a night with a pool.
After 3 long hot days at the temples it was good to sit by the pool for a few days. Ok, four days.

Went back to Phnom Penh to meet up with Adi from CCPP, and was persuaded to return to the project for a couple of weeks - didn't take much arm-twisting to be honest.
So i'm back at the beach for a while before resuming my trip to the North East, Ratanakiri Province.