A very long catch-up post about our last couple of weeks in Cambodia, and five days in Singapore

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.)

Stung Treng

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.

At a cafe called Guitar Milk, which was in the middle of a typical residential suburb, but made to look like a beach trhough the use of cunning trickery.

At a cafe called Guitar Milk, which was in the middle of a typical residential suburb, but made to look like a beach through the use of cunning trickery.

What the bread man wraps his bread in

What the bread man wrapped his bread in

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.

The guesthouse owners (were like our temporary family)

The guesthouse owners were like our temporary family

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.

A relatively small group of tourists.

A relatively small group of tourists.

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One tourist

Moss covered rubblewith ornate carvings

Moss covered rubble with ornate carvings

Inside the temple, literally off the beaten track.

Inside the temple, literally off the beaten track.

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!

A little kitty that took a liking to me while we ate lunch. "Want to take?" asked the owner. We were very tempted, but it would have been very difficult logistically. Damn you kitty, why were you so loveable and cute?

A little kitty that took a liking to me while we ate lunch. “Want to take?” asked the owner. We were very tempted, but it would have been very difficult logistically. Damn you kitty, why were you so loveable and cute?

Neang Khmaw Temple, on the way to Koh Ker Temple.

Neang Khmaw Temple, on the way to Koh Ker Temple.

Nearby Srot Temple

Nearby Srot Temple. Deserted apart from a family of picnicking Cambodians.

Thom Temple, which you walk though to reach Koh Ker Temple.

Thom Temple, which must be walked though in order to reach Koh Ker Temple.

Measures had been made to prevent further pillars from falling at Thom Temple.

Measures had been made to prevent further pillars from falling at Thom Temple.

Koh Ker Temple. Absolutely stunning.

Koh Ker Temple. Absolutely stunning.

The view from the top

The view from the top

Siem Reap

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).

This is a photo which we think sums up Martin rather well. As well as being a lover of fun, he was also at the centre of many great things happening in Siem Reap. He seemed to know who to introduce to whom to get ideas rolling, and was simply a very nice person to boot.

This is a photo which we think sums up Martin rather well. As well as being a lover of fun, he was also at the centre of many great things happening in Siem Reap. He seemed to know who to introduce to whom to get ideas rolling, and was simply a very nice person to boot.

Volunteers painting the wall - animal letters.

Volunteers painting the wall – animal letters.

The letters that Caroline and I painted.

The letters that Caroline and I painted.

Caroline's Narwhal

Caroline’s Narwhal

1964 - an art gallery that was the location of a monthly talk for sharing and discussing ideas.

1961 – an art gallery and coworking space that was the location of a monthly talk for sharing and discussing ideas. (sorry I’m being so vague by saying things like ‘ideas’ and ‘projects’ without elaborating. There’s just too much other stuff to write about)

This was created by and artist named ***, whom we had the pleasure of meeting. The peice was a homage to his older brother, who was a police officer but fell into a spriral of addiction.

This was created by an artist named Sophea, whom we had the pleasure of meeting. The piece was a homage to his older brother, a police officer who fell into a spiral of addiction.

Also from ***, this peice was in response to his dislike of the new 100 riel notes, which show an image of the Buddha. "Money is dirty," he explained, "and people are putting these notes in their back pocket." To add further insult, 100 riel is also the lowest denomation in Cambodia, worth about 2 cents.

Also from Sophea, this piece was in response to his offence at Cambodia’s new 100 riel notes, which depict an image of Buddha. “Money is dirty,” he explained, “and people are putting these notes in their back pocket.” To add further insult, 100 riel is also the lowest denomination in Cambodia, worth about 2 cents.

Singapore

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.

Did I mention the family was huge? This bus was hired just for family members. I dubbed it 'The Chicken Rice Bus', because a fancy chicken rice restaurant was the first place it took everyone.

Did I mention the family was huge? This bus was hired just for family members. I dubbed it ‘The Chicken Rice Bus’, because a fancy chicken rice restaurant was the first place it took everyone.

Gardens by the bay

Gardens by the bay

Another stop for The Chicken Rice Bus: Durian.

Another stop on The Chicken Rice Bus: durian.

Us in the fanciest dress you're likely to see us in on this blog

Us in the fanciest dress you’re likely to see on this blog

Left to right: Caroline's brothers, Julian and Kieth, her cousin Dean, and Kieth's fiancee Sven

Left to right: Caroline’s brothers, Julian and Keith, her cousin Dean, and Keith’s fiancĂ© Sven

For Lau Ee's grand entrance, the family first had to enter, stand in a square, and then applaud as she entered arm in arm with Caroline's uncle.

Preceeding Lau Ee’s grand entrance, the family first had to march in, stand in a square, and then applaud as the birthday girl entered arm-in-arm with Caroline’s uncle.

Caroline performed a Bharatanatyam dance

Caroline performed a Bharatanatyam dance

Keith and Sven performed a contemporary composition of Keith's

Keith and Sven performed a contemporary composition of Keith’s

Lau Ee Rena and Lau Peo Shenton performed a Tai Chi demonstration (they were both in thier 70s)

Lau Ee Rina and Lau Teo Shenton performed a Tai Chi demonstration (they were both in their 70s)

Caroline's Grand Aunty, the birthday girl herself: Lau Ee Julie.

Caroline’s grandaunty, the birthday girl herself: Lau Ee Julie.

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Cured Atlantic smoked salmon, with capers, shallots and horseraddish

Cured Atlantic smoked salmon with capers, shallots and horseradish

Beef tenderloin with beetroot fondant, green beans and red wine jus.

Beef tenderloin with beetroot fondant, green beans and red wine jus.

Rasperry sable with vanilla ice cream, and a side of homemade mint ice cream.

Raspberry sable with vanilla ice cream, and a side of homemade mint ice cream.

The whole family

The whole family

~~~

After Singapore we flew to Yangon in Myanmar, and wow, I have some amazing stories to tell about that.

And here they are.

~~~

Just an ordinary train

2 Replies to “A very long catch-up post about our last couple of weeks in Cambodia, and five days in Singapore”

  1. Nice whistlestop update… I’m kinda glad you missed Angkor Wat so you can come back next year and see it and hang out with us (hopefully not flu-ridden this time!) That 80th birthday party looked epic, what an amazing contrast to the rest of your travels!

    So now we wait for Myanmar posts (no pressure!)

    1. Hi Caryl,

      Yes, we’ll certainly come back healthy and ready to go! I hope that next time I’ll be able to write a bit more about the good stuff you guys are doing in Siem Reap.

      Myanmar posts are half written…

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