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The Saga of Heather's Travels ... the story of a dream come true

Adventures with Katie

CAMBODIA | Thursday, 25 February 2010 | Views [575] | Comments [2]

Sunrise over Angkor Wat

Sunrise over Angkor Wat

Finally I have found some time to update the blog. Life has been full on for last couple of weeks since my friend Katie arrived from New Zealand to spend 3 weeks with me. What a joy it was to meet her at Phnom Penh airport, and take her back into this busy bustling city. So much to tell each other and catch up with, so fantastic to have a travel buddy, if only for 3 weeks. So, we had a couple of days looking around the city, then caught a bus to the gorgeous city of SiemReap, about 4 - 5hours north of Phnom Penh, and of course home to the famous and most amazing Angkor Wat. Wow! the books and photos don't do it justice, we spent three long hot dusty days wandering around the ancient temples, and were just blown away by it. We had a lovely patient and informative tuktuk driver called Songtheap, who transported us and stayed with us for the whole 3 days, he was lovely and so reasonably priced. He picked us up at 5am on the 2nd day so that, along with 10,000 others (literally!), we could watch the sunrise over the big main temple that is the recognisable shape of Angkor Wat. It was stunning. Angkor Wat was, to me, everything I had hoped, heard and expected, and more! So beautiful, so mysterious, and so damn thrilling! There were literally hundreds of thousands of tourists, of every nationality, it is one of the most visited tourist sites in the world I believe, but it is so vast that there were many times when we were not able to see anyone else. The vastness of it all of course makes it very tiring to visit, as the heat was just killing, and we were so happy to get back to our lovely hotel swimming pool each evening...such luxury! We also visited the incredible Aki Ra Landmine museum in Siem Reap, a butterfly farm, Katie went to a silk farm (I had done already) and we visited markets galore - morning markets, day markets, and night markets, they all sell the same things, and everyone has "special price just for you Madame!" We did a lovely sunset dinner trip on the beautiful Tonle Sap lake where we saw an incredible floating village (more like city!) and saw a crocodile farm, (poor creatures in little cages) and met and cuddled a very friendly python, he was gorgeous! Then, adventurous souls that we both are, we decided that taking the comfortable, aircon bus from SiemReap to Battembang (3-4hours) was too easy, lets do it the hard way, by crappy uncomfortable smelly noisy slow riverboat! ha ha, we were picked up from our hotel at 6.30am, and were on board by 7, sitting on bare boards, ready for our adventure along with about 40 others. Well, the boat broke down before it even started, the propeller hit the bottom backing out of the berth, and they eventually realised that it had to be repaired. This took much discussion, and tools dropped in the water to decide! After welding and panelbeating, swearing and cursing, while we sat in the ever getting hotter sun, we were finally on our way, only to discover the lovely "back viewing deck" that seemed so appealing was overcome by carbon monoxide fumes from the stinky and extremely loud engine.We had to move inside where the wooden bench seats were about 6inches apart, and don't accommodate long legs with any degree of comfort. Crossing the lake, the boat broke down 3 times and each time the captain and his mate took things in the engine to bits and put them back together and managed to get it moving again. The lake is very low at present and only about a third of the size that it is in the rainy/wet season, and so of course the rivers feeding it are quite small and shallow, and we were heading it seemed up the smallest and shallowest! All the way there are floating villages, many many fisher folk living on the river in the most humble little floating shacks, hundreds and hundreds of them, a whole community, with schools, shops, travelling traders, markets, dogs, chickens even pigs on the water in little cages. Most places at the lake end of this river had no access to dry land at all, except up or down the river by little dugout canoes. As the river got narrower and shallower, we wondered just how we could possibly keep going, and sure enough, not long after the 6th breakdown, we stopped at a little floating restaurant/shop for lunch, and were told that we had to change to a smaller boat. However they weren't changing our luggage, that would come along later! this caused much consternation, and some people refused to leave the boat that had the packs and luggage on, things were a little tense there for a bit. Katie and I felt reassured that some people were staying on this boat to protect the bags so we both got on the smaller, faster boat, which was even more uncomfortable than the bigger one, but by this stage, you just had to laugh!! We heard after the trip that the river is actually officially closed to these boats, and that most of our $22 fare would have gone to river people/officials as bribes! The remaining 4 hours of the journey in the smaller boat with around 20 people was pretty excruciatingly uncomfortable, no toilet, you couldn't stand up, etc, but even so, it was incredibly interesting and sobering. As the river narrowed the floating villages became riverside villages, (floating in the wetter seasons) and got poorer and poorer. Never have I seen people living in such poverty and squalour. But in spite of this, there were happy naked kids swimming in the muddy river at every turn, people fishing and going about their lives. Everyone waved out, and I pondered the fact that our lives are so different to theirs that we must seem like aliens to them, they cannot imagine our lives, and we can't begin to imagine theirs. Once again I am reminded just how lucky and priviledged we are. We finally reached Battembang at about 6pm, and were able to go and find a hotel, and relax a bit before the big boat with our packs finally arrived, about 2 hours later. The joy of a cold shower and clean clothes was never so exquisite!

Next day we were up early, and off on another adventure. This time with a very styly tuktuk driver called Samath with his Dior sunglasses - maybe not real, but damn they looked good! He took us to the "Bamboo Train" first, which consists of 2 axles with a 2.5 x 4m bamboo platform on top. Nothing to hold onto, and just a mat to sit on, you hurtle along at about 25kph between paddy fields and small villages. It is powered by what looks like a lawn mower engine, and works fine while everyone is going the same way. However when you meet someone coming the other way, the vehicle with the least load must be dismantled, and placed back on the track on the other side. Then off you go again, till you meet someone else. Locals use the train to transport all sorts, we met several piled high with firewood. Oxen grazing on the tracks is an occupational hazard! At the end there is a wee tour of a brick factory, the obligatory cold drink to buy, then back on for the 30minute return trip. Very hot and dusty, but lots of fun, and wonderful views. Then it was on to an Angkor type temple ruin on the top of a hill, which was very beautiful, but was up 359 very steep and uneven steps. Up we puffed and panted and sweated to the top, and it was most worthwhile, very beautiful, and had the most amazing views. The trip down was quite scary, but we made it safely, and after a lunch stop at a rural village, we rode on the back of a motorbike up a second hill to see a more modern temple. This had a hideous history from the Khmer Rouge days and was where many people, including children were brutally murdered and thrown into caves. Most of the bodies have been removed, but many remain, and the gruesome stories from our guide were chilling to say the least. It is truly remarkable that the Cambodian people have this recent tragic history, from only as far back as the late 1970s, yet are so cheerful and friendly and welcoming to tourists. This was a day of contrasts for us, from the fun and excitement of the bamboo train, the motorbike ride, and the challenging climb, to the sight again of bones, skulls, and gruesome stories of torture and pain. After the Killing Fields and the Torture Museum of Phnom Penh I thought I had seen it all, but this country continues to shock, chill, surprise and delight me.



Well you 2 are sure leading an exciting life Heather!!Wow not sure at all I could cope with some of your adventures. Good On You!!!Cor I'm amazed and horrified by your exploits. Amazing. This kiwiland will be a very tame place by the time you return if you return!! You Go For It Girl!!This Dream for you is sure as hell real!! Take care-Travel safe!!Think of you very often. much love-Caroxxxx

  Carolyn Bisley Feb 25, 2010 8:48 AM


wow mum its great to read how you're packing it all in and making the most of it...must be fantastic to have Katie along for the ride. you write very well mother it makes it really entertaining to read about your adventures. now post some photos - i really want to see this bamboo train, how hilarious!
lots of love xx

  deb Feb 25, 2010 9:30 AM

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