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Two steps beyond. . . .

28 Apr

So, back in Phnom Penh. It’s hot as hell, and I have a feeling I may melt.

The Embassy issue dire warnings that they are closed on Friday for the Royal Wedding. If that delays the arrival of my passport I am going to write to William & Kate. . . .

And I have lost all my passport photos for getting visas. So I need to take a trip to the photo studio again. This time, I am pleased to see that I look less like a gnome (or Ferengi).

But good news! My passport is ready. A quick trip to the embassy, and I’m clutching a brand new passport. With pictures of birds on the pages. Why birds?

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OK, let’s recap.

I lost my passport and credit card on 20th March. I had to wait until 30th March to get that credit card so I could start on the passport trail – but meanwhile I managed to get the police report filled in.

Step 1 – Get to Phnom Penh & apply for new passport. Visit embassy, pay fee for new passport and courier fee ($254).

Step 2 – wait for passport to return from Hong Kong – total time, 23 days

Step 3 – Return to Phnom Penh. Collect passport from Embassy

Step 4 – Take moto out to airport ($10) to apply to immigration for an exit visa at a cost of $40 (they nearly fined me for staying in the country longer than 30 days). Expected time – 3 working days

Step 4 – Visit Vietnam embassy for Vietnam visa. Expected time – 1 day.

Total expected delay in Cambodia – 3 weeks. Which means I need to really rework the rest of my trip… things might get cancelled/rearranged as I have

  • Vietnam
  • HongKong
  • China
  • Tibet
  • Nepal
  • India

still to go and around 80 days to do it in!! Better get zippy!

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Coda: having phoned immigration today at 4:30, I was advised that for ‘an expediting fee’ I could get my exit visa today rather than next Tuesday. Possibly the best 20 bucks I have ever spent. So, after organising another ‘expediting fee’ for my Vietnam visa… I could be on the way on Saturday…. (the expediting fee could not under any circumstance be called a ‘bribe’. But it wasn’t going to get written on a receipt, no sir)

Diving–Cambodia Style

25 Apr

So, what to do in Sihanoukville for a couple of days? What about diving? It’s a bit of a fledgling pastime out here, but there are a few dive outfits in town. There’s a couple of liveaboards, but they’re not going out til later in the week. What if my passport arrives before then?

So, Eco Sea Dive Cambodia it is then. I’ve booked for four dives, and one night’s stay on Koh Rong Samoen in their eco-lodge there.

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The boat’s certainly a bit different from the Fijian and Australian diveboats.. a real chugger of a wooden vessel with Captain Bobo at the wheel, a few expats in tow – so with around 10 on board, we’re off to another Cambodian island. Mind you, it’s throwing it down on board the boat with torrential rain, thunder and lightning.

It’s a bit of a mixed ability group, some of them nursing injuries including a recent snowboarding incident. Recent? How can it be recent? I haven’t seen cold weather since April 2010! The divemasters are good, though. and the equipment’s fine. One of the girls dives in as a quick test, and realises to her dismay that she’s wearing her weight belt but no buoyancy aid. Fortunately, she’s quite a strong swimmer, but no marks for intelligence there.

I soon find out that diving here is a bit murky, compared to Oz or Fiji, but there are some interesting fish around. Apparently, if you can’t eat them, they grow to be huge. If you can eat them, then the Khmer probably will.

The rain hasn’t stopped, and neither has the lightning. Dropping below the surface sorts the rain and the thunder out, muting the rumble to a muted distant growl – but the lightning lights up the sea like an overactive photographer. So, what’s down there. The reefkiller, for one – the dreaded Crown of Thorns starfish. Non-one is worrying about this in Cambodia yet – but it could destroy their reefs if they’re not careful.

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Little nudibranchs in various colours, flapping their way across the rocks. Adult batfish (I’d really like to see a juvenile.. such cool fish until they grow up!) and shoals of trevalley, damselfish and more. The visibility isn’t great, but it’s still fun to fly over the crazy terrain – huge sheets of purple coral, green and mauve vase coral.

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Everywhere there are spiky sea urchins, menacing black stars that look like left over antisubmarine mines.. get one of those spikes in your hand and you’ll know about it. They seem to be watching me at every turn, with little white dots like eyes in the darkness just waiting for me to make a wrong move.

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The afternoon yields even more treats.. sea snakes, a family of gorgeous banner fish, purple lipped clams, every sort of sweetlips under the sun, it seems. The water is a balmy 29 degrees – coming to the surface it drops to 26, and we’re shivering – even though I know I’ve taken colder baths.

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And back to the resort. Basic, but nice. Just me and one of the dive crew staying, so not much likelihood of a party. Time for a walk through the village though, and on to the deserted beach at the end – just listening to the waves lapping the shore, and gently bouncing off the rocks. The generator kicks in as dusk falls, and the geckos come out to eat the flies while the cats and dogs rough and tumble around the dinner table. Kids paddle across the bay on boats made of polystyrene packaging.

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And that evening, after the generator shuts down at 9:30, the sky lights up like the gods are at war, bouncing lightning back and forth from cloud to cloud as first of all the sky lights up with the glows of distant warfare, and then bolts of lightning are hurled back and forth, jagged shards of electricity that rip the molecules of air apart as they light up the blue and pink of the sky behind.

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The rain continues through the night, bouncing off the tin roof – I throw the windows wide so I can watch the downpour.

Up early for some snorkelling – not much about, but nice to see the shoals of tiny fish follow me around. Time to sit on the jetty (one of my favourite places) with a friend . . .

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And then back on the boat. Our Cambodian divemaster, half man, half dolphin, leads one of the trips. We find the largest (and ugliest) boxfish I have ever seen at over half a metre long, electric blue stingrays hiding under the rocks, giant shrimp skulking in crevices. There are more crown of thorns sucking the life out of the coral, while shoals of trevally swim round us and huge purple and yellow emperor angelfish pretend to ignore us. Giant shrimp hide in crevices, and pink anemone fish hide in…anemones.

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There are cowrie shells and hermit crabs on the rocks, as we glide across a strange alien landscape dotted with shards of old coral and the ever present sea urchins.

And all too soon, I’m down to 50bar in the tank and it’s time to get back on the boat. A two hour ride back to shore, and another adventure is over.

Let’s hope the passport is on the way soon!

Sun, sand and Sihanoukville

22 Apr

Time to break out of Battambang…. I hadn’t planned on hitting the beach in Cambodia, but since I have so much time here, I thought I would add a new destination in!

Fabulous sunsets here – only problem is someone has put a phone mast in between the sunset and my hotel… so had to get a bit creative

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One thing I did notice about Battambang (and a lot of other Cambodian (and Asian) cities – the number of phone shops. Battambang must have at least 20 – it’s crazy. Here are 6 on one block.

Phone Shops, Battambang (1)

Up early for breakfast on the balcony of the hotel – it’s cool and clear, and a chance for a ‘thoughtful time’ as I get my head (and my heart) back together. The moon hangs full and low in the grey sky, a mysterious promise for the day to come.

So, a long, long bus ride to Sihanoukville, on the coast of Cambodia. Got to go back to Phnom Penh first though. The bus ride should be 9 hours. It turns out to be more like 13…

Arriving at Phnom Penh it’s quite clear that we’re a complete and total surprise to the bus company – but we’re holding tight to our seats (possession is nine-tenths of the law, isn’t it?) and the excess passengers end up in the gangway,on planks set between the seats. That’s gotta be painful for 5 hours.

We’re not the only ones overloaded – pickups hurtle past with entire families on board – at least a dozen people, two motorbikes, luggage, sacks of rice, cooking pots and two dozen chickens arrayed round the edge. I start to wonder if there’s an evacuation on – and wonder if this what what it was like when Phnom Penh was evacuated in 1975.

There’s a ferocious and beautiful lightning storm that captivates me – it’s possible to see for miles over the plains of Cambodia, and the storm crackles its shards of blue-white electricity through the night sky.

On the way to Sianoukhville

Sorry, no lightning – my camera is good but it can’t work miracles…

Finally into Sihanoukville… suddenly the balance of the population has changed to be mostly Barang – and largely British. It does in some ways feel like an Asian version of the Costa del Sol – but nice too. Tuk tuk drivers still hail me regularly for my five minute walk to the beach, while land mine victims and mothers with babies beg for a few riel. The children sell bracelets or fireworks as the sun sets like fire in the sky: the pyrotechnics above being matched by the flames spinning from the fire show on the beach, and the sputtering fireworks being sold by the children. I’m on Serendipity Beach and sitting in a bar called Serendip, waiting for the fortunate accidents to happen….

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I thought I might as well take a trip to the islands, so up onto a longtail boat run by Mr Sok – most of these boats here have two engines (presumably for safety) but we only have one – and since two-thirds of the passengers are sitting on the same side as the engine, we are dangerously overbalanced.

The sea is lively today – I’ve chosen to sit as far away from the engine as possible – which places me right in the path of any waves that might choose to throw themselves over the front of the boat.

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Snorkelling time – but the water, really, is too cloudy to see anything much – the roiling seas have stirred up the sand and the fish are pretty much invisible.. My mask strap snaps and has to be fixed while I tread water, hoping I don’t stomp on one of the many sea urchins that line the coral floor.

Then off to one of the islands for lunch, for exploring, for sunbathing. You can stay here, in a really basic hut on the beach. It would be nice if I was with someone, but a bit lonely on my own, I think.

And then another day on a sunkissed Cambodian beach. Well, I say sun kissed, but it’s more of a light peck on the cheek rather than a full on celestial snog. Cloudy days, and heavy rains (considering it’s dry season!). Today, for some reason, feels quite lonely and purposeless. Time to go diving, perhaps . .

Happy New Year

19 Apr

Cambodian style….

Ok, to get you up to speed. Day 2 of the Khmer New Year I was due to travel to Battambang by boat across the Tonle Sap lake. OK, it’s dry season, so there might be a drive to get to a bit of navigable water, but what the hey.

So, 30 minutes after they are supposed to pick me up… we call. No, the boat is not running. Nice of them to let us know, but anyway, onto a bus (what else) to Battambang. The driver thinks he’s in Speed. Rocketing down roads on the wrong side, leaning on the horn… I’m just waiting for the bridge jump or for Keanu Reeves to get on board. We stop, nerves jangling, for elevenses – I turn down the deep fried crickets and go for sticky rice with lotus seeds cooked in a bamboo tube.

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So, with slightly frazzled nerves, I’m in Battambang. I find a hotel, and the tuk tuk driver has arranged for me to do a tour the next day. The town is quiet – after all, it is New Year.

Onto the motorbike with my new friend Ya the next day and we’re off. After screeching down some bumpy country lanes, we’re at the bamboo train. I may well be one of the last people to ride it – it will get demolished soon to make way for a new ‘high speed’ line.

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The bamboo trains are ingenious – simple platforms of (you guessed it) bamboo on two small train wheels with a two stroke engine. It actually sounds more romantic than the reality – but it’s still lots of fun! The engine drives the wheels through a toothed belt – the driver controlling the speed with the tension of the belt. Admirable. Since it’s only one track, when two trains meet the least heavily loaded is dismantled to let the other pass.

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The route is straight as an arrow. The same cannot be said for the tracks, and this ends up being a cross between drag racing and the runaway mine train. That said, it’s a lot of fun and a fabulous way to see the countryside. At the half way point we turn round, but not before I have been cajoled into a Coke, and met a few fellow travellers having fun too – including the effervescent Ruth – of whom more later.

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From there it’s pagoda time. Phnom Sampeau is a collection of temples and buildings on a limestone outcrop outside the town. There are incredible views across the plains, and interestingly different temples – the reclining Buddha has inscriptions of the donations (and the amounts!) to build it. It’s a steep steep climb – but the fun is that all the people are out and about. Cambodians get 3 days holiday a year – at New Year – and they are making the most of it. There are nuns, and beggars, and all manner of ordinary folk enjoying the sunshine and some outdoor fun. I’m fascinated to watch the monk’s response to a fire amongst the incense sticks… he grabs the holy water and throws it on the blaze, much to the consternation of the devout.

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There are caves and an impressive canyon below, and the Killing Caves lie up a staircase up the hill.

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Off again.. the New Year revelry in full force now. Gangs of children, youths, grownups (well, anyone, really) line the streets armed with hoses, water rifles, water balloons, plastic bags of water and pots and pans of the stuff. Prepare to get wet. And covered in talcum powder.  It’s a bit like English Bank Holiday weekend too – the Mods and the Rockers are out (well, the Mods are out – we’re a bit short of big bikes out here).

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Our moto gets intercepted, and I end up covered in talc, drinking a beer and dancing with the family.  Not sure if I am supposed to be dancing with the daughter or the son.

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Fortunately, Ya rescues me and we’re off to Phnom Banam. That’s a climb of 358 steep steps, and it’s gratifying to see Ya give up half way while I pound up the hill. Again, families are out in force – and of course, everyone is on the same tour so I bump in to Ruth again.

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Someone has been doodling on the plants….

Down at the bottom, there’s a wedding in full force with lots of singing and gifts to the married couple. It’s a real party down there!

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And then we’re off to the party. Not sure which party or where on earth we are, but there is more talcum powder involved (although one guy covers me in what feels (and smells) like Toilet Duck).

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Out here, the men dance. And pose. And act like they are the coolest dudes in town. Dancing is kinda circular, kinda line dancey, and kinda fun… Ruth and I end up taking photos and making fools of ourselves…

…and then we’re off to another party. It really is a social event today.

And back to the hotel. It’s been an amazing, wonderful day full of colour and life, water and talc, bumps and surprises, laughter and smiles. Possibly the best one day tour I have ever done in my life. Might not have been so much fun if it hadn’t been New Year.. but so much laughter and gaiety, life and action.

Time for a quick coffee on the roof of the hotel – it’s a great view across the town, and the sky lights up as the sun sets in a ball of orange fire, hiding behind the clouds and peeking out in a tantalising display of hide and seek. The clouds respond with their own coquettish display of pinks and blues, as the sun tinges their fluffy edges with a host of pastel colour in contrast….

Tomb Raider – Angkor Wat: Day 3–back into the jungle

18 Apr

I may have decided against the sunrise – but the monk’s chanting (followed by the strangely off key atonal music) wakes me at 6am anyway, although I lie, unable to move, until 7am. I must lay off the 50c beers.

The final day of my Angkor Wat experience… this is one of the places I have most wanted to go, and it hasn’t disappointed! Today it’s time for some of the outlying temples… and so I get onto an even squeakier bike (with, I discover later, a loose nut on the crank which needs tightening every ten minutes)

I start off cycling through the main complex again – and since it’s on the way, into Preah Khan, just in case I can find my favourite nun. She’s not there, but I do get the feeling that my time sitting and learning from others is over. The wobbly bike gives me plenty of time to think, and there are some great insights into the business and teaching that seem to be great – although I do now want the longest web site address that I have ever come across. An abbreviation, perhaps…? Preah Khan on revisiting it seems even bigger and more complex – an amazing labyrinth of tunnels and courtyard.

Anyway, back to the adventure. Eagerly awaiting the appearance of Angelina Jolie in her shorts, I cycle on. And on. And on….

I get confused and enter Preah Khan through a different entrance. Thought it looked familiar. There seem to be far more people selling mango/ pineapple/ water/ postcards/ silk/ birds/ bamboo kazoos. I suspect that if I had thought about it I could have come up with a wittier answer to ‘Hey you sir, you wanna bird?’.

Preah Khan (12)

There are a whole host of different temples outside the city walls, often in poor repair. These are the ones the jungle HAS taken over.Preah Neak Pean is a crumbling temple/reservoir/royal fountains, where I meet a very panicky American in need of bug spray. Fortunately, I have some.  I’ve given up on bug spray, simply because it doesn’t seem to work. The little blighters will just have to bite me, and much good will it do them. Of course I could be using my shaman skills to imitate eucalyptus – but that would be silly, wouldn’t it? Surprisingly, it does help!

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Banteay Prei is a lovely jungle temple – the jungle is trying to take over again, and the trees have moved in. I succumb to the appeal of one of the children who, to her credit, can count from one to ten in English, German, Japanese, French, Italian and Spanish (and, presumably, Khmer) and buy post cards. Lunch is wonderfully fresh pineapple in a plastic bag with chilli salt (the chilli really does set off the pineapple taste beautifully)

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Past Ta Som and the Eastern Mebon… but the pace of temples has begun to take its toll, and I ignore Pre Rup altogether. Which is just as well, because I visited that on day 1. After a while, one large pile of carved stone looks like another. I think I’ve finally reached my limit – but the best is saved for last.

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The huge complex at Ta Prohm is an amazing sight – this is what happens when the jungle takes over. Huge, powerful trees have grown over the old temple, crushing the place in a merciless embrace, or, in rare cases, actually holding the temple in place, waiting for Indiana Jones to come and rescue it. Indy would have been at home here – and Tara Croft was, with some scenes from Tomb Raider being shot in Ta Prohm. We discover cute kitties hiding out in the ruins, and there are so many incredible photo opportunities it’s difficult to know when to stop. Of course, you have to get the Japanese tourists out of the way first.

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And then, with a somewhat numb rear end, I cycle through the gates of Angkor Thom and past Angkor Wat for the last time. It’s gorgeous, beautiful, timeless and has a truly mystical air to it – it really does live up to all the stories, and although I had some amazing experiences in Chichen Itza and Maccu Picchu, this really is the most amazing set of temples I have ever visited.

And then.. a little bit of shopping (I’ve found somewhere that sells technical shirts cheaply) and some more Mexican food before cycle back to the hotel (tuk tuk drivers will rarely offer a ride to a man on a bicycle). I pack my bags, ready to move on. The boat to Battambang has been booked so an early start beckons me.

 

For those of you who haven’t picked up their copy of ‘The Cube’ yet, or who would like to help out on my journey -  see what all the fun is by checking out this post:

http://www.exploretheadventure.com/2011/04/12/the-cube/

Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail: time for a day off

17 Apr

I’m set to get up at sunrise to see the sun over the main Angkor Wat temple complex… but unfortunately, the airconditioning has failed, and I have a truly spectacularly bad night’s sleep. It didn’t help that I discovered a mistake in my ‘Donation’ link so stayed up late to fix that. When I discover that I have forgotten to charge my camera battery, I decide that discretion is the better part of valour, and bury my head under the covers for a well deserved hour’s sleep. Well, sort of. It’s hot as hell, so I’m not burying my head under anything.

So.. ‘he has chosen…wisely’ . . .

A chilled day today, I think. Read a book, get some coffee, enjoy some fabulous insights, get hugely excited about what I am going to do when I get back! Buy yet another journal (been doing a lot of writing).

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I do make a bit of a tactical error – the coffee shop is on the main street, and although free from tuk tuk drivers, it’s a magnet for kids selling postcards and bracelets (‘ten for one dollar’ followed by ‘you buy me food’ if the postcards/bracelets are rejected) and for disabled soldiers selling books and paintings. It’s hard to turn them down – although the local wisdom is never to buy anything from a child – they never get the money, and it discourages them from going to school.One of the children even writes in my notebook (very neatly) ‘My name is Chu..I give you flower…I want food’

I do buy a book though – I suspect ‘First they killed my father’ is not going to be a cheerful read. But I do manage to get my eyes tested and buy a new pair of glasses and two pairs of sunnies for $22. Bargain!

Over dinner I strike up conversation with an American girl and a mother and daughter from Northampton. Tanna has a story to tell about being kidnapped by a brothel – I am hopeful that I might get to hear it, so we meet up for drinks later and to watch the New Year celebrations. Very low key, but lots of music and raffles (for some reason). Water is a big part of New Year, here, and everyone can end up very wet!

Another wild tuk tuk ride home (this time he DOES know where the hotel is) past the New Year’s Day lights and over the largest speedbumps on the planet and weaving down the unmade road to the hotel, I crawl into bed at 2am and take a decision on the sunrise. Not a chance.

Berlin Angkor (4)Berlin Angkor (5)

 

For those of you who haven’t picked up their copy of ‘The Cube’ yet, or who would like to help out on my journey -  see what all the fun is by checking out this post:

http://www.exploretheadventure.com/2011/04/12/the-cube/

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade–Angkor Wat Day 2

16 Apr

Time to tackle Angkor Wat on my own. So I commandeer a creaky bicycle and set off. (A three day ticket costs $40, and a tuk tuk will cost between $15 and $20 per day – so it can get quite expensive quite quickly – so with my own wheels I’ saving money, getting some exercise, and I am free to go where I want.)

Let's Go... (1)

It’s busy- but not as busy as it could be. Starting at the main complex, and fighting off the people who want to sell me water (or beers) I cross the moat and into the main temple. The temple is the largest religious structure in the world, and the hear and sould of the Cambodian nation. Originally built dedicated to Vishnu by king Suryavarman in around 1120 AD (around the same time as Notre Dame) but has been rededicated to state Theradava Buddhism.

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Across the moat and into the main temple area – the temple is based on the Hindu spiritual universe with Mount Meru at the centre, surrounded by continents (the courtyards) and oceans (the moat). I wander round incredible friezes telling stories from Hindu history, insights into Heaven and Hell, and more.

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The main tower, the Bakan, can be climbed (like most Asian temples, it has very steep and scary steps) – but I have to remove my hat in honour of the Buddha.

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Honestly, I am stufffing pictures in here to give you an idea… but it seems futile already – it’s impossible to convey its immensity and majesty in a few pictures.

I take a walk round the temple grounds and head off on foot to my next destination – but get ridiculously lost (Angkor Wat is square, so working out which direction you are facing is tricky. Perhaps getting the bike would be a good idea (and I am very glad of that!)

So, into the city of Angkor Thom. The city itself was built by Jayavarman VII and he’s not let us forget it. Although the faces on the towers at each of the four entrances to the city are of Avolikitetshra, the Boddhisattva (enlightened being) of Compassion – the faces look remarkably like the king. The bridges into the city have 54 gods on one side and 54 demons on the other, in a scene from the story of the Churning of the Sea of Milk – holding the serpent Vasuki in a gargantuan tug of war.

East Gate, maybe (3)South Gate, Angkor Thom (2)

The city is full of amazing treasures (although the gates themselves are pretty stupendous). The heart of the city is the Bayon, where the king’s face puts in another appearance (actually, 216 more appearances) on the towers of the temple. It’s a wonderful place to explore, and I spend ages trying to capture different photographs of the faces!

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Again, it’s impossible – until you see this for real, it’s impossible to describe

The Baphuon pyramid is a colossal structure sadly in need of restoration – the records of how to put it together were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge and have left Cambodia with the world’s largest 3D puzzle – think ‘Lego’ without the instructions. (PS for my American readers. It’s ‘Lego’. The pieces are ‘Lego bricks’. Not ‘Legos’. For heaven’s sake). Sorry, where was I?

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Oh yes – bricks litter the landscape, with little chance of it every getting rebuilt as it should be. But efforts continue. It’s closed to visitors, but it’s possible to see a 60m long reclining Buddha carved into the stones on one face of the temple.

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And there’s more. The Terrace of Elephants is a wonderfully decorated viewing stand. The Terrace of the Leper King is another huge terrace which might (or might not) have a leprous king’s statue at the top.

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And I’m exhausted. Time for some food and a little rest before carrying on.

I cycle off to Preah Khan, a wonderfully huge complex of corridors. In the middle I discover a cheeky nun, who ties a wristband on me grabs hold of my face in her hands, blesses me and then apparently throws something away from my body. I’ve experienced this before in healing work – but it’s weird when it happens to me. But I feel strangely peaceful and grave – almost as if she’s taken fear and thrown it away. Will have to think about that, but it’s quite an odd experience. She’s lovely, and old, and seems to be at that point in life where she can just look back and laugh (in some of the work I do this is the jester archetype – I might tell you some more about that some time – perhaps for the next month’s product release). I just want to sit near her and enjoy the energy and childlike happiness she’s giving off.

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And then, saddle sore and weary, I toddle off to Phnom Bakheng for sunset. Every one else has the same idea, it seems, and there are so many people it’s difficult to find a spot. There are a couple of camera shy monks, lots of Khmer, courting couples and tourists a plenty. It’s a shame that the sunset is a bit of a letdown, and we get ushered off the hill before dark.

And into town. Time for dinner, and collapse….the market has New Year decorations for sale and you can see them making them in the street..

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Everywhere has these pointed star decorations, some with lights – they get delivered by motorbike or tuk tuk all round town.

More tomorrow . . .

For those of you who haven’t picked up their copy of ‘The Cube’ yet, or who would like to help out on my journey -  see what all the fun is by checking out this post:

http://www.exploretheadventure.com/2011/04/12/the-cube/

Indiana Jones and the Temples of Doom . . . Angkor Wat, Day 1

15 Apr

The reason that people come to Siem Reap is for the temple complex at Angkor Wat. There are hundreds of temples and pyramids, palaces and water features spread out across the area, the remains of the ancient Cambodian civilisation which once ruled Thailand and Vietnam. Angkor Wat is the largest religious complex in the world, and has been in continuous use since it was built. But Angkor Wat and its familiar silhouette is just part of the incredible range of buildings that are scattered across the plain.

So, time to get my hat on, stow the bullwhip and get exploring. I hope there aren’t any snakes. I hate snakes.

First day out, I am sharing a tuk tuk with Chelsea and Mack – they’ve done all the inner area, so we’re heading out of town to see some of the outlying temples and stuff.

First stop, then, is Bantey Srei. Sometimes called the City of Women, and local guides will often tell you it was built by women, or for an Empress, that’s pretty much a mistake in translation. The temple’s dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, and is made of very pretty pink sandstone (which, because of its hardness, has kept its detailed carvings).

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There are some thoughts about this being a temple for children – certainly the doors are smaller than other temples, and to my mind the monsters and guardians have a little bit more of a whimsical look – but that might be my imagination!

We also stop off at the Landmine Museum. This was started by a former mine layer, now known as Aki Ra, who left the Khmer Rouge and, when the war was over, started to clear the mines, firstly at the request of local villagers, and later officially. He’s defused many many thousands of landmines and other UXO (unexploded ordnance) – although the Cambodian army laid the mines, America dropped the bombs to destroy the Ho Chi Minh supply trail in the Vietnam war.Landmine Museum (1)Landmine Museum (2)

It’s another sad story, but there’s so much hope around the centre, which also has a children’s home for children who have become victims of landmines, often losing limbs in explosions from mines they simply discover in the field. Learn more at http://www.cambodialandminemuseum.org

And then off to Pre Rup – another big temple outside the main complex. Lots to discover and scramble over (I would have loved this when I was a kid) and cool views across the plains too.

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And then back to town. A bit of shopping, and then 50 cent beers again on Pub Street (Siem Reap is such a new tourist town that the first bar on Pub Street was in 1998. Since then, it’s exploded but competition is fierce, and pretty much any international cuisine can be consumed within a 100 yard radius.

We run another test for the tuk tuk driver, who fails spectacularly to find my hotel, despite telling me he knows where it is. He’s confused it with somewhere else. I’m going to miss Mack and Chelsea – it’s highly unlikely that our paths will cross now they’ve headed off to Malaysia. But stranger things have happened.

Banteay Srei (1)

More tomorrow . . .

For those of you who haven’t picked up their copy of ‘The Cube’ yet, or who would like to help out on my journey -  see what all the fun is by checking out this post:

http://www.exploretheadventure.com/2011/04/12/the-cube/

Competition time . . .

13 Apr

So… Siem Reap. Tourist town. Lots of tuk tuks and motos… the hotel is apparently the highest rated in Cambodia on Hostel Bookers – although it’s a bit of a walk in to town. But what about a bit of an experiment? A competition, even. Motos versus tuk tuks – the goal, to see which ones hail me the most on my walk into town.

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(these guys are ‘churning the sea of mik – an ancient Hindu story about the creation of the elixir of life – and a repeating theme around Angkor Wat)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The moto drivers put up a strong showing and soared into an early lead at 6-0. Once I’d reached the main road, the tuk tuks started to catch up, although the motos still kept them edged out. Coming into town it became a nailbiter, and the tuk tuks slowly started to gain on the moto drivers, resulting in a final thrilling finish and a final score of tuk tuks 14, motos 12. Massage parlours put in a late showing with 5 in the last three minutes of the competition.

But who should I find in a bar in Siem Reap? Mack and Chelsea, of course. Mack is now my favourite jazz musician (list of about five) and can be found at(http://mackgrout.blogspot.com/ and http://mackandchelseainasia.blogspot.com/).

After dinner, we’re keen on some 50cent beers – and after a couple of those, Chelsea is keen on a fish massage. So far I have avoided these, but since the three of us and a couple newly acquired Canadians are in this together… what the heck (and we get a free beer if we sign up for 20 minutes).

It’s a very odd sensation, having your feet nibbled by hundreds of tiny (and not so tiny) fish – and I am hoping that they haven’t let piranha in by mistake. Tickly! The free massage is nice too… and so, suitably relaxed and with remarkably clean feet, we head off. The fish have, indeed, made us very happy!

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We’re hailed by a tuk tuk driver who quite obviously hasn’t got a tuk tuk. When challenged on this, he says that it’s just round the corner, and it has a sound system, disco lights, pool and minibar. Apparently the marijuana is quite good round here.

Anyway, we take a tuk tuk back…. but he fails the practical part of the exercise as he has no idea where my hotel is. After some driving round, I get him to take me back to the town centre (where he has the temerity to charge me for not taking me to the hotel) – I find someone who does know where they are going…. another adventure in the temples of Cambodia awaits us tomorrow….

In case you missed it – or in case you needed a link that works (the email didn’t have the right links in) then my offer for ‘The Cube’ is at

www.exploretheadventure.com/2011/04/12/the-cube/

What’s in a name?

11 Apr

Time for a little musing today, I think!

So, to keep you all up to date, I hopped into a rally car from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. Well, it looked like a bus, but I think the driver thought it was a rally car. There are some good roads in Cambodia… and there are a lot of not so good roads. But at least that guarantees that it’s a fun trip. We had to stop for a while for what looked like major repairs to the suspension – being a bus driver out here means being a mechanic too.

We charged out past villages on stilts with ponds outside – my suspicion is that the earth for the road was dug out of the ponds, so now there are complicated arrangements of earthworks or rickety bridges to cross the ponds – some of which look pretty stagnant, and others of which seem to harbour fish and/or groups of children splashing and laughing. It’s dry season, so there’s no rice to be seen, but the outlines of the paddy fields burnt brown cover the land from road to horizon.  The driver leans on his horn a lot – short blasts to warn the motorcyclists, and long blasts to move the cows and the water buffalo off the road.

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In the towns the mechanic and hardware shops are interspersed with piles of watermelon and tarpaulins drying seed of one form or another. Barrows sell river clams salted ir chilli spiced – and every other shop seems to sell mobile phones.

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Finally, right on time, I’m in Siem Reap.  I’m not sure what I’ve done, because although the guest house has a 97% rating (the number one rating in Cambodia) on HostelBookers – it’s way out of town!

I was musing, as I am wont to do, on names… I’d even been thinking of using a ‘stage name’ for public speaking… and when I thought that thought, I got a hugely powerful impression that I actually needed to truly own my name. So many of you have noticed that I have changed it on Facebook to ‘Timothy’ – which is, of course, the name I was given when I was born. ‘Timothy’ means ‘honours God’, and it feels like a reflection of what I want to do with my life.

Hodgson is interesting too – while originally the thought was that it meant ‘son of Roger’ or ‘son of a pig farmer’, the indications are that it’s actually Norse in origin, and comes from the Norse ‘Hrodgeirsson’ which means ‘son of the spear carrier’. In ancient Viking battles, the hrodgeir was the man who threw the first spear in battle – the man who started the action. And, I thought to myself, I can live with that!

So, a few days in Siem Reap – spend a few days visiting the temples of Angkor Wat and experiencing the third New Year of the year (!) before heading down to the beach, perhaps for some diving. But Siem Reap has some surprises in store for me yet…..

I forgot to mention a couple of things about Phnom Penh – unlike Thailand, where every other shop is a 7-11 (if it isn’t a phone shop or selling dogy knock off t-shirts or sunglasses), Cambodia doesn’t have such a chain. It DOES, however, have it’s imitators, including the wonderfully named 7 Elephants stores still using the7-11 colour scheme.

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I forgot to mention the cute cats at the guest house, one of which took to guarding my rucksack and the other of which got on pretty well with Tigger and Snuff. I forgot to mention the not so cute dog (subject of many ‘do not feed’ signs on the tables)

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And I forgot to mention the Pink Elephant Happy Herb Pizza which turned out to not be as exciting as I thought.

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And I forgot to mention the technology failure which has seen my laptop screen become increasingly unreliable and is now held together with two clothes pegs and not very many screws.

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