I have been very slack with this blog lately, but I have great reasons!
1: I got lazy
2: I got sick
3: I got busy
When I last posted, Caroline and I were in Kampong Cham in Cambodia, but so much has happened since then. The pace at which we travel is somewhat rampant, and we are always unwittingly finding ourselves in situations that deserve to be written about. Unfortunately these situations often keep us quite busy, and my diary-keeping suffers. Not exactly a bad problem to have, I freely admit.
So now, for your reading pleasure, I’m going to write a brief catch-up covering the rest of our Cambodia trip, and a five-day quickie that we had in Singapore. It will be confused, devoid of a central topic, and probably best read in the voice of an excited auctioneer arguing with a horse-race announcer.
(Just to keep things more confusing, I’m writing this post in Myanmar, and there will be an onslaught of posts about this crazy, wonderful country over the coming days.)
After Kampong Cham we caught a bus to Krong Stung Treng, a little town that’s used by travelers as a stopping point when preparing to cross the border to Laos. We managed to do almost nothing while in Stung Treng, short of eating and strolling around the streets, but we did manage to make a few minor observations. The town was set next a river intersection, where the Mekong connected to the Tonle Sekon, and this impressive natural expanse was the perfect setting to build a pretty little town bursting with charm. Sadly, Stung Treng was in a grubby decay. The riverfront walk looked like it had ceased to be worked on 20 years prior, and it was here that we saw the most rubbish of anywhere else we’d seen in Cambodia. Plastic, paper and polystyrene littered the streets, poured down the riverside walls, and floated in the water. The centrepiece of the town proper was a broken concrete fountain that no longer worked, and was filled with a stagnant puddle and piles of Coke cans. The main street led away from the river and contained a bustling market, where rubbish, mud, and unkempt hedges choked broken statues of animals. The people, like everywhere in Cambodia, were very friendly towards us, and there seemed to be an endless stream of them putting on motorcycles haphazardly.
Food was certainly a redeeming feature of the town, and we dined on barbecued chorizo-like sausages, noodle soups and filled bread. We only spent two nights in Stung Treng and because there was nowhere to rent a motorcycle, we didn’t explore the surrounding area. I suppose I haven’t exactly painted a very fair picture, but what I’ve written were our initial impressions.
Krong Preah Vihear
We spent three nights in the town of Preah Vihear, which is not to be confused with the famous Preah Vihear temple one hour’s drive away. Websites with information about the town were out-of-date, and so when we followed Google Maps to a promising guesthouse, we discovered that it had been abandoned and trees were growing out of the walls. Luckily the town was tiny, and it only took half an hour of walking to find Happiness Guesthouse, which was run by three women – a mother and her two daughters. They were super-friendly, and doted on us constantly, providing us with fruit, treats, and a wealth of information about the area.
We’d read that motorbikes were not available for hire in the town, but ‘mum’ made a few calls and managed to arrange one for us. The price was steeper than normal, but beggars can’t be choosers, and mum argued the motorcycle owner down a few dollars to sweeten the deal.
One of our ‘sisters’ convinced us to make a day trip out to Boeng Mealea, an Angkor-era temple that the internet told us was ‘off the beaten track’, ‘quiet’ and ‘secluded’. We knew the internet had lied to us (again) after we arrived and discovered (I’m not exaggerating) at least 20 full-sized buses overflowing with Chinese tourists. Once inside the compound, we clambered through a window that was off the main path, revealing several halls and courtyards that were utterly void of people. Even with this beauty and seclusion, the nearby squawking of hundreds of Chinese tourists taking temple-selfies-in-expensive-dresses-and-high-heels succeeded in destroying a lot of the magic.
After Boeng Mealea we drove our bike to Koh Ker temple, which was almost deserted, and therefore much more pleasurable to visit. Sorry, but since this is a jumpy, catch-up blog, I’m not going to write much about Boeng Mealea or Koh Ker, so for a detailed description of these beautiful, ancient sites, simply do a quick Google search.
I can, however, supply photos!
I do believe that we are the first tourists to ever visit Siem Reap and not visit Angkor Wat. This wasn’t because we have a snobby, elitist view of popular tourist hotspots (just a mild dislike), and both of us were very much looking forward to seeing this wonder of the world. Unfortunately, during our first day I developed a terrible flu that flattened me and mostly kept me in bed for the trip. I managed to haul myself into town to rent a motorcycle for two days to visit the temple, but ended up feeling dizzy, heading back to bed and barely even using the bike.
Mercifully we were Couchsurfing, and the room we were given was absolutely luxurious compared to the rest of our time in Cambodia. We had a four-post bed with mosquito net, air-conditioning, a wardrobe, and a private bathroom with hot water. Our host Martin was a lovely, slightly eccentric German man who was continuing a project he started in Amsterdam called ‘PancArt’, which was essentially a space for artists and thinkers to mingle, play music, and hold exhibitions. Martin was a great cooker of pancakes, and his role was to provide his delicious offerings to whatever proceedings might be happening. Hence, ‘PancArt’.
The house was always bustling in the evenings full of expats and locals, with plenty of artists, NGO workers, and folk who simply wanted to make a positive difference in the city. For the most part I was groaning in bed, and Caroline was tending to me or relaxing, but we did manage to make it out of the house to help paint the wall of a local English language school, and to attend a discussion about some of the projects that were happening in the area (projects which I’m not going to write about for the sake of brevity).
All of a sudden, after the basic accommodations, street food, muddy roads, cows, hammocks and general feeling of chaos of Cambodia, we entered the luxury of the Elizabeth Hotel in Singapore. Caroline’s grandaunty was hosting her 80th birthday bash, and Caroline’s enormous extended family had flown in from all over the world to celebrate.
We spent five days in the Singapore and easily adapted to the luxuries of the city. Although the small island nation is far from my favourite place to visit, it was lovely to meet even more of Caroline’s family members, and it was nice to be looked after for a few days, even with the hectic schedule.
After Singapore we flew to Yangon in Myanmar, and wow, I have some amazing stories to tell about that.