Category Archives: Cambodia

Cambodia Pt6: Kampot Pt2

Continued from here

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPROThe casino, the only part of the Chinese plan that seems to have been built, sits on it’s own looking rather weather worn and dated. It’s the only place that we found that sold food, so we had a little bite and marvelled at the bad interior design. The next is a part built hotel, a concrete shell that never saw any fixtures or fittings, rather ugly, but good fun to explore, and the views down to the sea are even better than from the Buddha. After finishing off the concreting so well, it’s so strange to have just left it there. There’s some more roads that head around the mountain top, open and quiet, so good for a little burn about, even on the little scooter I had. Finally there is a waterfall in a little dip, along with typical touristy gift shop. It was very dry while we were there, but judging by the size of it, a good amount of water would be flowing over the rocks when raining. Riding back down we got to enjoy the view all the way down, and with the engine off it was remarkably peaceful.

DSCN6712The last day in Kampot was spent with a Belgian guy and a British family climbing some of the Karst cliffs not far from the town. I highly recommend checking this out if you’re staying in Kampot, Climbodia was a great day out, and one of the best activities we did in the country Following the directions was good fun, but we did find the place (definitely got lost on the way home though). David, our lead guide was excellent, with some impressive knowledge both of the local area and the mountain we were climbing. Along with the rest of the Climbodia guides we had the complete package, with lunch, snacks and drinks included. The day starts with a nice easy climb leading to the Via Ferrata (assisted climbing) then an awesome abseil through a hole and down into a chute of rock.

DSCN6723The tour then heads right inside the hill, through some of the more picturesque sections, winding through tunnels and caves before working our way way up again. A cool section allows you to crawl through a tight gap then peer over the edge into a 100m deep chasm. After seeing that, wiggling away again was something of a relief. The final part after lunch allowed us to climb as we wished, taking on some of the traditional style climbing options, some that were pretty normal, although still challenging, and one up through the chute we had abseiled earlier which meant bracing your back against one wall then walking up the opposite, then juggling up and so on, certainly a new challenge and one that defeated us.

DCIM100GOPROKampot was a very cool place to visit and a great surprise. It would have been easy to spend more time there if only we hadn’t got to get into Vietnam before our Visas ran out.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Advertisements

Cambodia Pt5: Kampot Pt1

The last stop in Cambodia, before we headed into Vietnam was a very pleasant little town known as Kampot.

DCIM100GOPRO
I spent for the first couple days with a friendly German girl before being joined again by Nico. We stayed in a hostel that had been recommended to me over a year before by a Spanish guy called Pablo I met in Malaysia. Bodhi Villa is a little away from the town, so you need a moped to out there, but it’s an idyllic location next to the river. Waking up each morning with a jump into the water was a great way to get ready for the day. A nice range of rooms, including a selection of mattresses on the floor barely covered with a roof through to private little rooms and even a couple of separate riverside ‘suites’. A great atmosphere at the hostel made for a very pleasant stay.

DCIM100GOPROThe town itself doesn’t have anything to draw people in, no big sights to see, but it is a lovely place to spend some time. The local expats provide good restaurants and a friendly word or two, and the monthly mini-magazine that gets printed provides a sense of community that is hard to find elsewhere. That said there’s still plenty of Kampot unspoilt to explore including the usual baffling markets and shopping arcades.
The first night we took a sunset boat trip up the river that flowed past our hostel. It’s a pretty big river so the cruise took a while to get up to it’s end point, but watching the sun set over the Karst mountains in the distance was very relaxing. Once the sun had set and the dark started to set in, the hunt was on to find the fireflies. Moving each day, once it’s dark enough to spot their glow, they start to cluster up usually all in one tree or another. Seeing the whole tree lit up like it was christmas but knowing it was all from the light of these little insects was incredible. We were allowed to get out onto the bank to get closer and try to get some photos, though a camera lens is never as sensitive as the human eye. We headed back shortly after to experience some of the good variety of food the town had to offer.

DCIM100GOPROThe next day we decided to bike up to a rather interesting tourist spot. Bokor mountain has supposedly been bought in entirety by China, who are in the process of building a holiday town. Work is still in the early stages though, and the whole site is open to the public. The most noticable feature when you arrive is the quality of the road, and although i haven’t ridden a bike in many places that road was certainly one of the most fun I’d ever driven. On the way down, turn off your engine and coast, it’ll save petrol and make it nice and quiet too.

The first actual stops are some big Buddhas not the largest I’ve seen, but with some incredible views over the flat lands below and down to the sea in the distance. The strange visitor centre was next, with a plan for the mountain, although it really didn’t seem to make much sense, and didn’t match up with the shape or any existing features. Perhaps the Chinese are planning to re-landscape the whole thing. The Mountain is flat topped, so the roads are pretty simple, and there’s a few more features on the top to check out.

DCIM100GOPRO

Continued here 

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Cambodia Pt4: Sihanoukville Pt2

Continued from here.

DCIM100GOPRO

Wanting a little less smoke in the air, I headed back to the mainland again, but this time wanted to stay down with some new friends in Otres beach, a couple of kilometres south of Sihanoukville. At first I was worried there would be little to do, but the community along the beach was incredible with groups clustering at the nicer bars, everyone friendly and welcoming. Most of the day was spent in and out of the water, enjoying food and drinks from the bars. I did get a little sick again, but alas no pumpkin soup to sooth me here. There were some awesome bars just back from the beach that would have live music, and the room I ended up in was above such a bar, a couple of times I spent the evening chilling watching the water listening to some odd music or spoken word.

DCIM100GOPRODuring my stay there one of the Sin-Ville bars put on an indie music festival, and as it was something to do, of course we headed down to check it out. Two stages, one more electronic and one mostly indie-rock, both kicking out plenty of noise meant there was a great vibe. It was mostly tourists out, so I imagine the beach bars were looking pretty quiet that night. Better music than usual and plenty of old favourites reminded me of old uni parties and nights out in the UK, and it certainly seemed to be doing a good job with the crowd, lots of happy people dancing away.
The last night in Otres was spent enjoying the monthly market/festival open evening event. It’s a large hall and courtyard filled with all the various little stalls from town, plus plenty more cool stuff, along with some live music and even some art installations (although quite different from a gallery) it’s partly a community event and partly for the tourists as it brings people together to celebrate the surroundings and indulge a little in the comfort of familiar people. It was very homely, with both locals and fresh ex-pats welcoming you to enjoy the atmosphere and experience what was on offer. Check out this cool article for more on Otres

DCIM100GOPROOverall Sihanoukville doesn’t offer too much as far as culture goes, but it’s got some great beaches and cool nightlife all for a pretty decent price. It’s the backpackers alternative to the overpriced southern Thai resorts. In fact you could compare it with the beach breaks so infamous in Europe, only much cheaper, much nicer, and a lot less kids. You might not get the luxury, but it’s still a damn nice place to spend a week or so. Otres is one of the few places I could imagine heading back to, the general atmosphere there is so much cooler than most, it could be a home, rather than just a place to party for a few nights until you’ve seen the sights and move on.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Cambodia Pt4: Sihanoukville Pt1

On to Sihanoukville, another bus, but clearly not a bad one as I remember nothing of it.

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPROI did leave Jess behind here, but was re-united with Nico who I’d travelled Laos with and a few old good friends. The first place in Sin-Ville, as it’s jokingly known as, we stayed was possibly the cheapest hostel I’d been to, but it was understandably cheap, thin mattresses on big shelves with plenty of other people, no locks if there was even a door, nights spent cuddling your bag and sweating. Still at only $2 a night, it was almost ok to wait an hour for one of the two showers to come free. Don’r recall the name, but it’s right on the inside of the main corner in town.

DCIM100GOPROWe were only there a short while though, quickly heading over to Koh Rong Samloem for a full moon party. Not quite the scale of the Thai version, but the island had a little restaurant and plenty of friendly people on it. It would have been nicer without the lengthy boat ride either way, I did feel bad for all those suffering with hangovers on the way home. Back on the mainland we moved over to Led Zephyr for nicer rooms and a better bar. Much the same as the Thai equivalent Sihanoukville has it’s share of awful bars, promo girls and guys, buckets of dubious quality, hookers and crime. If you stay away from the main beach it’s generally pretty pleasant, but the sea front is pretty nasty. Away from the touristy beach the main town has a nice ex-pat community, often happy to have a chat with some snails (backpackers) the newly-locals share some wisdom and give some good tips on where to go for some incredible western food. The first roast dinner in a long time, and very nice it was.

A few days there and it was time to jump over to Koh Rong, an island of note for three reasons;

  1. Everybody smokes weed, all the time
  2. The whole island runs on one generator, so when it’s out, the island shuts down
  3. One of the most gorgeous beaches I’ve ever seen

DCIM100GOPROThe main strip is a hive of ramshackle bamboo buildings, constantly extended to cater for more and more backpackers. Getting a room is tricky as their booking systems tend to be ‘first come first served’ and as the residents wake up before the boat arrives it can be a nightmare to find the few newly located rooms before anyone else does. Once there though, you can spread out a bit, find a place you really like and either explore, or get high. Unfortunately most of the tourists seems to stick with the latter, but if you’re willing to avoid that and explore, there’s the popular and stunning beach on the other side of the island, but even more than that every section of coast is beautiful and often avoiding the two hotspots mean you’ll find somewhere even nicer. There’s plenty of trails through the forest to check out as well.

To be continued…

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Cambodia Pt3: Phnom Penh

So, another long and uncomfortable bus over to Phnom Penh.

DCIM100GOPRO

However, this one had to be one of the nicest. The coach had beds in it, admittedly they were slim and you had to share, but thankfully I had someone with me that I didn’t mind sharing with. There was a tiny little TV in there and a power supply, so we could even watch a movie or two. It still wasn’t comfy, but once you’re asleep, you really don’t mind.

We had a really nice hostel (11 Happy Backpackers) in the city, with a very cool rooftop bar, and some great food. I really loved the pumpkin soup, I haven’t had any since that beats it. Phnom Penh isn’t really about the night life though, it’s a much more serious place to visit, as the main attractions are the Tuol Sleng (S-21) Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields. As the capital from which Pol Pot ruled, the city was the site of some incredibly horrific events and places.

DCIM100GOPROTuol Sleng museum was originally a school, but when Pol Pot took over he began to change things, education was not approved of, so many schools closed, often to be re-used for other purposes, in this case as a prison. The treatment of the prisoners here is what is most shocking, and as you explore the site you can see the appalling conditions they were kept in. As you continue through the museum you come across some of the smaller and more cramped cells, knowing that these people were rarely allowed out, often denied food and punished heavily for any misdemeanour. The last part includes some of the devices and techniques that were used on the inmates, things that I will not speak about here. While very sad and upsetting, this shocking example of Cambodias’ history is a must see, to understand what the people have been through, so recently and yet are still smiling and living their lives in such a positive way.

DCIM100GOPROThe Killing Fields, popularised by the movie of the same name is another must see in Phnom Penh, It is an incredibly well kept site, with an excellent audio tour that takes you through the now peaceful site that is grave to countless Cambodians massacred as part of the cultural cleansing. The tour explains the various areas, starting with relatively innocent stops like where the barracks once stop, and the guard houses, until you find yourself at the first mass grave. While there are few bones uncovered, you can see where rags and scraps of clothing have surfaced through the soil, and tourists have tied these to the fences and trees in the area. Wristbands from all around the world are hooped over posts marking out the edges of these graves, and despite the thousands of dedications, it is believed thousands more were murdered.DCIM100GOPROThere is a small lake a little away from the main site that allows tourists to stop and reflect on the horrors that had happened there, although it is hard to comprehend how, especially so recently, something so disturbing could have happened at all. The hardest part is the infant grave, and thinking of how innocent children and babies were taken and killed, more like cattle than people, before being dumped into another mass grave. The final stop of the tour is the Stupa, filled with the skulls of victims, hauntingly beautiful as the architecture and the interior clash. We visited very late in the day, just before closing so it was very quiet, and very peaceful. It seemed almost silent, except for the audio tour that we could pause at any time.

DCIM100GOPROThe next day was rather more cheerful, exploring the markets and finding replacement shoes and just enjoying the city sights. We also took a trip out to the local wildlife park, the Phnom Tamao Wildlife rescue centre. South East Asian zoos do have a bad reputation, but this example was very nice; large open spaces and not a huge amount of tourists, all the animals were rescued from other zoos, or from private collectors, very few were taken from the wild. Certainly the animals looked healthy and happy, and checking out the various Asian bears was impressive, they do miss the Pandas, but when they’re so expensive it’s understandable.

The last thing I did before jumping on the next bus was to have a tooth pulled out. It was cheap, easy and quick (and I got to eat lots of pumpkin soup) so good in fact I went back not long after to get two more out. Goodbye wisdom teeth.

DCIM100GOPRO

Our next destination was the infamous Sihanoukville.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Cambodia Pt2: Siem Reap Pt:2

The first part of the Siem Reap article is here

DCIM101GOPRO

DCIM101GOPROThe Lady Temple (Banteay Srei) was the next stop off, a much less spectacular stop, but the gardens make it impressive in a very different way. Much more peaceful and relaxing than the other temples. It’s quite a long way from the others, so you have to invest a bit of time getting there, but worth it in the end, especially if you’re a fan of flowers and gardens.

DCIM101GOPROThe Landmine museum was a rather brutal reminder of the horrible things that have happened to Cambodia only a couple of decades ago. A collection of deactivated weapons, bombs and mines are on display, along with some odd manikins modelling military uniforms and holding guns. It’s an odd but interesting stop that only takes a few minutes to explore, and all the money for the tickets goes to helping victims of landmines, so it’s worth a trip even if you don’t really take a look around.

DCIM101GOPROWe stopped on the way back at rather dodgy looking military base/shooting range Batman told us about. However it was highly over-priced and with no bargaining at all, we left without even touching a gun, one of the things on the bucket-list for SE Asia. Back through a few smaller temples,and Angkor Thom to get some more pics as the sun went down, then into Siem Reap for food and a well earned rest.

The next day was spent relaxing a bit more and exploring the town of Siem Reap, which is a lot more pleasant away from the touristy centre. There’s some interesting events that go on, including the incredible circus ‘Phare‘ which features a group of boys from nearby Battambang, The show really is very impressive, with all sorts of flips and somersaults performed, along with some great tongue in cheek jokes. What was best was that you could see that the performers were really enjoying themselves, breaking out into a grin every time they got a round of applause or pulled off the trick just right. There was also the American Ex-Pat who performed solo on Cello to raise money for the local hospitals, he had arrived in the 1980’s to help as a doctor and stayed ever since, working as a doctor during the day and performing at night to raise money for vital equipment and facilities.

DCIM100GOPROWe took another day to travel out to Tonle Sap Lake to experience the floating villages and the way the people survive constantly surrounded by water. It was a long trip out, and when we arrived there wasn’t much floating going on as the lake level had dropped over the summer. Still the houses up on stilts looked rather strange several metres above ground level. Once you get to the river you switch to a boat which guides you through the town, along with waving kids and happy faces.DCIM100GOPROThere’s a little stop to switch onto a little paddle boat with a lovely local woman and take a trip through the skinny trees that live right next to the main lake. It’s rather magical bobbing between the plants, sunlight filtering through the leaves. As you move through quietly and serenely it’s nice to take stock and realise how luck we are to be able to travel the way we do. Back out of the trees we’re back onto the motorboat and out into the lake itself.DCIM100GOPRO It’s simple colossal, 2700 square km while we visited, although during the monsoon season it backs up to 16000 square km, 22 times larger than Singapore.

Back in Siem Reap we spent a day chilling by the pool at the hostel before hopping on the night bus over to Phnom Penh.

DCIM100GOPRO

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Why Cambodia is our Favourite SE Asia destination

Cambodia is an amazing country surrounded by amazing countries. But what makes it our favourite?

DCIM100GOPRO

Simply, it’s the balance of tourism, temples, history, beaches, exploration and pure unspoiled natural beauty.

DCIM100GOPROIt has something to offer for a lot of people, with Siem Reap and Phnom Penh drawing in huge crowds for the epic temples and incredible history, the southern beaches offering late nights and lazy days for the party crowd and islands, mountains, rivers and more to be explored, the variety satisfies all tastes and allows longer term visitors enough variation to stay interested. Continue reading Why Cambodia is our Favourite SE Asia destination

Favourites – The best places in the world according to me

So this might not be the most comprehensive list, as I’ve not been everywhere, but I’ve seen a few spots, and here’s my favourites

1. Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown

Queenstown is probably the most tourist orientated town in the world, it’s also surprisingly small. Considering it’s fame it really is tiny, but that is because the only thing it does is tourism, it doesn’t need lots of lawyers, marketing consultant agencies, technical support officials, or any of that kind of thing. It sure has lots of bar tenders though! The density of bars is apparently the greatest in the world, but that’s not why we love it.

  • You cannot go anywhere without bumping into people you know – While it may be full of tourists, you will know a lot of locals, and will bump into them every time you leave the house.
  • Everybody wants to be there – It’s such a competitive town to get work in, and it’s not cheap either, so everyone is grateful to be there, and this comes across and a wonderful positive attitude throughout the town.
  • There’s an unbelievable amount of things to do – not just the extreme/adventure activities that most locals can’t really afford, but there loads of other bits as well. Frisbee golf, the ice rink, cinema, trampoline park, skate park, hills to hike, the ‘beach’, cliff jumps, it’s hard to get bored here.
  • Knowing people gets you free stuff – The longer you stay, the more people you know, and there’s a constant cycle of favours between the staff, which works out to cheeky discounts, ‘local prices’, free shots, free chips, and well, anything anyone can get away with giving you.
  • Burgers – The famous Ferg Burger (and bakery) which leads the competition Devil burger, both of which have an amazing selection of rad burgers. I love burgers. My favourite was the Yankee Devil, with pineapple and egg on top. Ask for a large in a small bun to increase your meat to bread ratio.
  • The views – look in any direction and you’ll see the beautiful southern Alps all around, the mountains of Mordor, Ben Lomond peak, Cecil and Walter across the lake. Breathtaking, everyday.
  • Snow!

2. Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town

It may not be the capital of SA, but it definitely the cultural centre, and a much nicer place to be. Cape Town has a vibrant and lively atmosphere at any time of day, especially down on Long Street which transforms from suave hipster cafes and skate shops to party stops and clubs over the course of the evening. It offers some of the nicest and trendiest places to eat and drink we’ve ever seen. The city seems to be driven by the young energisers that make up it’s population, with design at it’s absolute core.

  • Table Mountain, Lions Head and Signal Hill – The city centre is surrounded by hills on one side, and water on the other, it means you’re never out of sight of the hugely impressive Table Mountain, and a decent walk is never far away. While the locals will always drive, if you’re in the city, just walk to the base, it makes you feel that bit better afterwards
  • Taking a drive around the Cape Peninsula – Ok, you’ll need to drive this one, or do one of the many tours available, but with a lot of cool stops around the peninsula you’ll need a full day at least to see it all. It’s well worth it, seeing penguins, mind blowing cliffs, and the view over the Atlantic Oceans.
  • The attitude of the locals – South Africans are not lazy people, and those that are working away in Cape Town seem to be the most driven and motivated people we’ve ever met. With a free afternoon they won’t just bum out on the sofa watching TV (if they even have a TV) they’ll be playing music, organising a party, writing their blog or just heading somewhere cool to do something cool. I crashed on a friends sofa for a while, and asked about the Playstation, to which they replied “We have a playstation?”
  • The feeling of hopefulness and endless possibility – There’s a general feeling that in South Africa, you can try things, it’s not as brutal and cut-throat as other countries and trying something new will be much more likely to be accepted (perhaps not successful) it’s a very liberating feeling.

3. Sihnoukville, Cambodia

Otres Beach

Sihnoukville is an interesting little place in Cambodia, stretching along the coast it ranges from the town, purely functional, to ‘Sin-ville’ the party beach down along to Otres 1 and 2, the chilled out beaches of dreams. Get yourself a bike, head down to Otres and hit up the super mellow vibe of beach life. There’s plenty of bars to try, so wander along the golden sand until you meet some nice people then just enjoy your surroundings with a drink or two, then when it comes to the night, mellow some more, or head to Sin-ville and get messy.

  • Otres beach – great sand, great views, great people, great food, cheap drinks!
  • Live music – both Otres and Sihnoukville have plenty to offer as far as music goes, usually hosting some traveling musicians, which can include yourself if you want. Talent just pops out of nowhere to do a little set of songs or poems
  • Surprise mini festivals – I went to three in about two weeks, and all were awesome. The regular hippy fest/market was a chance to chill out and hear more of the local (expat) talent, the indie rock party put on by one of the bars was a nice break from the usual commercial dance and pop, and a great way to bring everyone together. Finally the Full Moon Party over on Koh Rong Sanloem brought back flashbacks of Thailand without the overwhelming crowds
  • Easy links to the nearby islands – Nearly all the islands you can see from the beach are reachable from Sihnoukville, a couple hours on the boat (get the fast one). Just be aware that these islands are generator run, or not powered at all, which means the party ends when the lights go out! Everything is done ad hoc, so just get there, find a place to sleep and forget everything else.
  • Don’t Worry Be Happy – It’s impossible to stress here, so don’t.

4. London, UK

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/11121228/Do-you-care-about-London-and-its-future-development-Then-join-our-society.html
Stolen from telegraph.co.uk

Pure stress, constantly being aware of everyone around you so you don’t collide with a Chinese tourist, sweating on the tube, freezing outside, rain, smoke, smog, rain. London is an incredible city, the definition of infinity – everything that could happen probably already has somewhere in London, and you’ll be sure to find a barman who has a friend who knew a guy who saw it happen. There’s so much here it’s impossible to contain it all.

  • Camden on a sunday night – Once the weekend crowds have gone, Camden looks inwards and celebrates itself. The bar-staff swap sides and start drinking, along with all the local residents who themselves work the busy nights. This seems to be a surprising amount of strippers, up for a giggle and to meet some people who aren’t drooling all over them. The Good Mixer and the Camden Head seem to be the good spots.
  • Shoreditch hipsters – just hanging out anywhere in this area you’ll see the hipsters, usually on a bike with a moustache, desperately trying to get noticed for their uniquely styled floral patterned messenger bag, hand made in Cambodia by some hippy chick on holiday. The upside is there’s usually some decent eateries around.
  • The sights – Yeah, London has a few of these, but our favourite stroll goes south from Piccadilly, across the bridge and along south bank, then north again through Covent Garden and Seven Dials. Get out of the tube and start walking, and you’ll find some gems around every corner.
  • The parks – There’s quite a few of these and they’re all fantastic. Get away from the noise, and well, there’s more noise, finding a quiet bit can be tricky in the smaller ones, but head out to St James, Hyde park or Regent park and you might find a quiet tree to lean against for some ‘me time’.
  • Everything, all the time – It never sleeps, so if you need a burger, or some cat food, there’s always somewhere.

5. Melbourne, Australia

Melbourne_by_night
Stolen from wikipedia

Split into three section as far as I’m concerned, St. Kilda, the CBD and Fitzroy, each has it’s own characteristics and personality, all united by Melbournes cultural edge. St. Kildas beach and party style nightlife, leading up to chapel street had a more casual bohemian style, while the CBD was suits and coffee, and when night falls the smarter dressed went to the super clubs, and finally Fitzroy was for the misfits that like their clothing unique and their music live.

  • Trams – Easy to catch, easy to get off, and they go everywhere. And possible the easiest transport to get away with not paying. If you ever do get caught, play the tourist card and they’ll just boot you off, no fine. Not great if you’re late for work, but cheaper than anywhere else in the world!
  • Penguins – You can go check out penguins down in St Kilda, and they are adorable.
  • Manabar – Unfortunately closed now, but a bar with video games is always cool
  • Fitzroy music culture – Every night, in every venue, a different kind of music is play. Swing to indie, hip-hop, jazz and funk to punk rock, nerdcore, spoken word and avant-garde world music fusion. It’ll be in there somewhere.
  • Rooftop bars – despite Melbourne being the most southerly and therefor coldest Australian city, it has an abundance of rooftop bars, some of which offer incredible views over the city, others which offer incredible views of the building next door. Come rain, shine or freezing night wind, these rooftops are open.

A little longer than planned, but there’s our five favourite places in the world (so far)