Otres Beach, Sihanoukville.
After messing up a bit when I arrived in Sihanoukville (or Snooky as people down here seem to call it) due to a complete absence of forward planning, the first thing I did early in the week was make a plan and arrangements for my next destination which is how I roll now. My next stop is the temple complex of Angkor Wat which is a major reason many people come to Cambodia. I finished all my research online, booked some accommodation in Siem Reap which is the base city for the temples, booked up a Tuk Tuk driver who does tours around Angkor Wat and some of the other sights (with good reviews – part of his profits go to a local school) and also got chatting to an Italian girl called Mika on a South East Asia Travellers Facebook group I am on and we arranged to share the Tuk Tuk so we could split the cost. Finally, I booked a ticket for a traditional Cambodian Aspara dance show and dinner one night. To be honest, it actually felt really great to have a plan of action and everything sorted out instead of just rocking up and winging it like I was doing previously.
Anyway, I definitely managed to redeem the last few days of my time on the South Coast of Cambodia and eventually found what I was looking for down here – lovely beaches, clear blue seas, snorkelling, great food, some trekking and some cliff diving, yes I said cliff diving. I took a day trip to 3 islands and here are some of the photos from those first few days of the week with the obligatory selfies of course. I am thinking that after my travels finish, I may make my final post to be a montage of all the selfies I have taken during my travels in one big post – you know you want it.
It was time to leave Snooky. In Cambodia, you apparently come for the beaches and the temples. I had done the beaches so now it was time for the temples. Angkor Wat attracts about 2 million visitors a year and is one of the largest and possibly most famous religious monuments in the world so I remember feeling quite excited that evening even though I am not by nature a “temple” kind of guy.
I avoided the 12 hour bus journey and took a (relatively) cheap 45 minute flight from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap but on the way I made myself a solemn vow that I am going to shortly convert from Flashpacker back to Backpacker to make the money – and therefore the trip – last longer. First, I am meeting a mate and group in Thailand and they will be in holiday mode so I am not expecting that to be a cheap couple of weeks but after that the conversion from Flashpacker to Backpacker will take effect and I will be taking the cheapest accommodation, transport and food only. I expect it will be more of an adventure that way anyway. I might even consider staying in dorms occasionally.
As arranged, my Tuk Tuk driver picked me up from the airport and we made our way to the hostel. That night I went to the Aspara Dancing Show I mentioned earlier which was a recommendation I had received. Basically, this involved a buffet with a dancing and music show which shows how Angkor Wat was built and is supposed to be a good Cambodian experience. The show itself was of a pretty high quality, however, the other members of the audience completely ruined the experience for me. I am really glad I come from a country which (somewhat) respects theatre / show etiquette. I mean I feel bad opening a sweet wrapper noisily in a theatre back home. The people attending this show couldn’t have cared less about the enjoyment of the other audience members – talking and laughing (even shouting in some instances) throughout the whole show, walking about to chat to other people as if they were having a nice stroll in a park, noisily changing seats to sit closer to the front even though we were all in designated seats, using their phones to take photos with the flash on completely disregarding all of the large red signs saying that photos were forbidden and ladies coming up and telling them to stop, standing up when the show got exciting blocking my view even though we were on tiered seats and there was no reason whatsoever to stand up. I am not saying this was a specific nationality of people as there were lots of nationalities in the theatre so I am not sure exactly why this behaviour was so prevalent here when I never see this back home. I know I sound like a grump but it was so bad that I honestly wish I hadn’t gone. Shame, cause the show itself was quite good from what I could decipher through all the infuriating distractions.
Next day was Angkor Wat for the Sunrise Tour and temples. I woke up at 4.00AM and we picked up Mika, the Italian lady I mentioned earlier who was sharing the Tuk Tuk with me and off we went.
I was in Temple Town so the next morning I went to see 5 other temples. The temple complex around Siem Reap is very vast and you could spend a whole week here visiting all the temples. I will tag my photo highlights of the remaining temples I saw at the end of the post as there are quite a lot of them! I really enjoyed wandering around all the ruins except it was a little annoying having to stop all the time to avoid getting in the way of peoples photos. On the first two temples I did this, stopping or side-tracking to avoid. By the third temple, I got a bit fed up so just walked straight through across their photo paths pretending I didn’t notice and by the fifth temple I was actually making a bit of a game of this purposely walking across peoples photo paths. I know this makes me sound like a complete git but I was getting a bit templed out by then so had to amuse myself somehow. No, but in all honesty I did really enjoy the Angkor complex and even if you are not a temple person, it would be hard not to be blown away by some of these incredible constructions and the effort that must have gone into building them.
I mentioned earlier that my guide, Tuk Tuk Kimlean, donated some of his profits to a local school project. I didn’t actually realise, however, how amazing this bloke really was and he is probably one of the nicest and most selfless guys I have ever met. That evening he picked me up and he had a Polish couple with him in the Tuk Tuk and he took me to his school where he also lives. He actually runs this school and puts the majority of his profits from his Tuk Tuk business into the school. This is an early morning and evening school which teaches English. Cambodia is a very poor country so most parents cannot send their children to English school as you need to pay for that but if they do learn English this dramatically improves their chances of a decent life – working in tourism and hospitality jobs such as hotels and restaurants or even offices in the city. If they cannot speak English, they will usually end up in menial or agricultural jobs, rice etc on very low wages, scraping by to survive. Tuk Tuk Kimlean explained all this to me. He paid all the rent and teaching salaries for two teachers at this school as it is his dream to give the kids a better chance in life. He makes no gain from this himself and does it purely out of the kindness of his own heart and love for his community. His other Tuk Tuk friends have done quite well for themselves (due to the temples which brings a lot of business) and have houses, cars, good phones and clothes etc but he puts all his money into this school project leaving just enough for himself for food and board.
Once I got to the school, it quickly became apparent that they wanted me to do something for the class. I felt a bit awkward as this is not something I have done before but agreed of course and this basically involved me reading some passages out of a book and showing how to pronounce some longer words which the kids then read back in unison, but when the teacher started asking me to help explain what a past participle was or what was the difference between a regular and irregular verb I had to explain to her that I didn’t have a clue. English is my language but I cannot remember any of the theory stuff I learnt at school 20 years ago! So she just got me to read a few more Christmas carols.
Later I had dinner with Tuk Tuk Kimlean, his wife and 4 children (two of them adopted) and he told me some of his life story. When he was a kid, we was in a very poor family from a village that just made money from rice farming. When he got to 13, he wanted his family to leave for Siem Reap and try to make a better life for themselves but his parents refused so he ran away and followed the river to Siem Reap. That night he slept rough in a forest and had to drink the water from the river. For a few days, he went round the streets begging for food until eventually he was taken in by the monks at a Buddhist pagoda where he lived for 3 years. The monks took care of him, fed him and taught him English. Eventually, with his new found English skills he got a good job in a restaurant. I suppose the monk story could explain some of his motivations for helping children learn English now. He hadn’t spoken to his family for 3 years and they thought he was dead but when he made his first salary of $40 he sent $20 back to his family and they reunited. It took him 3 years of working at the restaurant to save enough for a motorbike and another 2 years after that to save for the Tuk Tuk at the back. He then became Tuk Tuk Kimlean, He had been running the school for 4 years and was the same age as me. Just on the off chance that someone reads this who is looking for a Tuk Tuk Driver for Angkor Wat and you want to support a good cause, you can find him on Facebook under Tuk Tuk Kimlean and the facebook page for his school project is “New Dreams Cambodia Kids”. Apart from the good cause, I had a really good time with Kim and he also gave me some great insights into Cambodian life and the various struggles they face.
For me, this is pretty much the sort of thing I wanted to travel for. My main motivation for travel is not for some deep or meaningful reason such as broadening my cultural horizons, finding myself, understanding the world or even personal growth (although those things are a great bonus if they do happen). The principal reason I like to travel is simple – to escape from routine. At home, I am happy and very grateful for what I have but I know exactly what I am going to be doing day in, day out. I know what time I will wake up, what I will have for breakfast, how I will travel to work, what I will do there, who I will see and talk to, what I will watch on TV that night, what time I will go to bed, what bed I will sleep in, what I will do at the weekend etc. When travelling, I have no idea what will happen from one day to the next and I certainly didn’t know that morning I would end up being at a Cambodian school reading Christmas carols to them and then having dinner with a Cambodian family. Every day is completely different and I have no idea what will happen tomorrow. Plus they sell cheap beer in other countries (sorry it was getting a bit deep there, had to bring the tone back down)
Next day, I went with Tuk Tuk Kimlean to a place called the “Floating Village” which is basically a village where people live in the river. It was a beautiful place and I really enjoyed the boat ride through the estuary and out onto the Mekong River although it was obvious that this was an extremely poor village.
Believe it or not, for the entire 4 days I was in Siem Reap I avoided the below street and didn’t go out partying once. The reason for this being that I am about to meet a group of people from back home in Thailand for a couple of weeks, so I expect there to be a fair bit of drinking during that period and so I felt a break was in order first. I still had a great experience in Siem Reap without the boozing and the past few days at this place has been one of the highlights of my travels so far – up there in the top 3 places for sure.
So that was this week. I flew back to Bangkok, Thailand today, on the Sunday and am staying in the same place where I started this trip 6 weeks ago before travelling through Vietnam and Cambodia, it has been a great 6 weeks and I definitely feel like I have had a bit of an adventure so far. I have also lost a bit of weight and got a sun tan.
I will be meeting the friend and group tomorrow, Christmas Day, and staying with them until 8th January after which I will go to Laos for 3 weeks. I think after that I am also going to revert to posting twice a week – weekly blog posts are turning out to be far too long!! Can’t beat a bit of blogging inconsistency – all trial and error I guess.
Merry Christmas to anyone who reads this and a Happy New Year!! Thank you for reading too, I am a solo traveller so I love to hear when someone has read my blog, even if just a few have read, as in an odd way it sort of feels a little bit like I am sharing the experiences I am having with someone else which makes them more valuable.
Anyway, here are the rest of the temples: