A Travellerspoint blog

Images of Angkor

storm 30 °C

It is the best part of six months since we were in Cambodia and at Angkor Archaeological Park. We have been sifting through the photos we took whilst there and you can see some of the better ones here.

I won't write too much about our time there or about the historical facts, religious meaning and architectural aspects of Angkor but, suffice to say, we found it totally fascinating and were completely mesmerized by the place. For us, it's definately somewhere that grows on you. Each day that we returned, we found the temples more impressive and enchanting.

We opted for three-day tickets and headed to the park at 4pm one afternoon. If you buy a ticket at 5pm, you can visit the temples for a couple of hours and the ticket is still valid for three full days after that.

So, tickets purchased, we set off on our bicycles up the long, straight road which connects Siem Reap and Angkor....

Above: The camera lense was fogged-up when I took this picture but this is the long straight road on the way to the park.

Above: The camera lense was fogged-up when I took this picture but this is the long straight road on the way to the park.

Above: Our first view of Angkor Wat shortly after a large storm had swept through the area on our first day there.

Above: Our first view of Angkor Wat shortly after a large storm had swept through the area on our first day there.

Above: Bayon-style faces on the entrance gate to Banteay Kdei.

Above: Bayon-style faces on the entrance gate to Banteay Kdei.

Above: A restored colanade in Ta Prohm. It cost $1m to do.

Above: A restored colanade in Ta Prohm. It cost $1m to do.

Above: Teresa by a very big tree.

Above: Teresa by a very big tree.

Above: The trees have taken over in Ta Prohm.

Above: The trees have taken over in Ta Prohm.

Above: Ta Keo - a huge, pyramid-like structure.

Above: Ta Keo - a huge, pyramid-like structure.

Above: Looking back down from the top of Ta Keo. Our bikes are submerged somewhere in the red puddle on the right!

Above: Looking back down from the top of Ta Keo. Our bikes are submerged somewhere in the red puddle on the right!

Above: The entrance to Preah Khan.

Above: The entrance to Preah Khan.

Above: Incredible carvings in the interior of Preah Khan.

Above: Incredible carvings in the interior of Preah Khan.

Above: The Terrace of the Elephants in Angkor Thom

Above: The Terrace of the Elephants in Angkor Thom

Above: These strange single towers are called Prasat Suor Prat and they stand in line in front of the Terrace of the Elephants.

Above: These strange single towers are called Prasat Suor Prat and they stand in line in front of the Terrace of the Elephants.

Above: Prasat Suor Prat again.

Above: Prasat Suor Prat again.

Above: The South entrance to Angkor Thom

Above: The South entrance to Angkor Thom

Above: This is Bayon, the state-temple of Jayavarman VII and just as impressive as Angkor Wat.

Above: This is Bayon, the state-temple of Jayavarman VII and just as impressive as Angkor Wat.

Above: One of the towers in Bayon.

Above: One of the towers in Bayon.

Above: The enormous temple-mountain, Baphuon.

Above: The enormous temple-mountain, Baphuon.

Above: On the west side of Baphuon (you have to use your imagination for this), the wall is shaped to resemble a lying-down Buddha. If you can spot the chin and nose towards the left, you should make it out.

Above: On the west side of Baphuon (you have to use your imagination for this), the wall is shaped to resemble a lying-down Buddha. If you can spot the chin and nose towards the left, you should make it out.

Above: This temple that we spotted through the trees is either Prasat Bei or Baksei Chamkrong.

Above: This temple that we spotted through the trees is either Prasat Bei or Baksei Chamkrong.

Above: Angkor Wat in the distance taken from the hill-temple Phnom Bakheng.

Above: Angkor Wat in the distance taken from the hill-temple Phnom Bakheng.

Above: Angkor Wat in the late afternoon.

Above: Angkor Wat in the late afternoon.

Above: The huge moat that surrounds Angkor Wat.

Above: The huge moat that surrounds Angkor Wat.

Posted by Rivercity 06:00 Archived in Cambodia Comments (4)

In....Kerala

sunny 34 °C

Yes, after only four weeks, we have found ourselves (not in the spiritual sense!) back in India this week.

After much consideration we decided not to renew our Sri Lankan visas but to use up the remaining time and entry we had on our Indian visas. So we looked for the cheapest and most convenient flight and it took us to Madurai in Tamil Nadu.

We spent a few days there enjoying the good food and general buzz of the Indian city before heading off by train to Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala state.

We ended up having a really good time in Madurai. There wasn't a lot to see but we splashed out a bit on a decent hotel and had a good laugh with the locals.

The main attraction in the city is the Sree Meenakshi Temple. According to The Guidebook, up to 10,000 pilgrims a day can arrive to perform Darshan there. We can vouch for that based on the number of rickshaws heading for the temple that were impossibly crammed with people. Here are some photos from our time there.

Above: Looking across the Madurai skyline and Sree Meenakshi Temple.

Above: Looking across the Madurai skyline and Sree Meenakshi Temple.

Above: The West Tower of the temple seen from the street

Above: The West Tower of the temple seen from the street

Above: A family making some rupees

Above: A family making some rupees

Above: Lovely collies!

Above: Lovely collies!

From Trivandrum we took a short rickshaw ride to Kovalam which we visited in 2006. There's more concrete here now but it is still a beautiful location and the food is top-notch. We've landed good accommodation thanks to Wilson whose place we stayed at last time.

Last night we went out for a few beers...

....Ha-Ha!

....Ha-Ha!

Above: A busy Saturday evening at Hawah Beach, Kovalam

Above: A busy Saturday evening at Hawah Beach, Kovalam

Above: Lighthouse Beach where we're staying. Can you spot the boat?

Above: Lighthouse Beach where we're staying. Can you spot the boat?

Above: The sunsets are amazing along the West Coast of India

Above: The sunsets are amazing along the West Coast of India

Posted by Rivercity 08:40 Archived in India Comments (3)

India and More Cricket!

sunny 33 °C

It has been a while since the last entry so I thought I better get something on even if it is a tad uninteresting. We have barely used the laptop in India as it is hard to find decent wi-fi and it's not much fun spending time in sweltering internet cafes.

For anyone still reading, there is an option to subscribe to the blog which means you will automatically get an email telling you when a new entry has been added - I'm not sure how you do it, though.

We've been in India for just over a month now and, apart from the cricket, we haven't been up to much. We've covered 1000's of kilometres so a lot of our time has been spent on buses and trains.

When we finally got here after our difficulties with Sri Lankan Airlines, we went straight to Mahabalipuram for a couple of weeks. We generally didn't do much and the first week was pretty much washed-out by Cyclone Nilam. It made landfall very close to Mahabalipuram. There was a day of torrential rain followed by a day of strong, squally winds. The wind caused some damage to trees and to the more poorly maintained buildings but it never got too serious.

We went down to the beach a couple of times to see the sea and where the winds were at their strongest. The occassional gust was powerful enough to blow us off our feet and the sea seemed to tower over us. Local news stations arrived to do outside broadcasts at the bottom of the road which leads to the beach and a crowd of locals had gathered to watch.

Around this time, an auto-rickshaw with loudspeakers went by and was instructing women and children to remain inside!

Below is a short video taken at the beach when the cyclone was at its peak (sound recommended).

Above: And the beach on a more peaceful day

Above: And the beach on a more peaceful day

Apart from the storm, there's not much to write about during our time in Mahabalipuram. We did take the bus down to Pondicherry one day where we stocked up on cheap booze (Pondy is tax-free) for our upcoming trip to Ahmedabad in Gujurat state where alcohol is illegal. We also went to Chennai for the day but both trips were probably more hassle than they were worth due to the terrible traffic and long journey times. It took us two and half hours to get back from Chennai; a journey of only 50km!

We were still on the waitlist for our upcoming train journey to Mumbai so we went to Chennai Central Station and spoke to someone about getting a seat on the emergency quota. Most trains in India are waitlisted as people book multiple trains in the hope that they will get a confirmed seat on one of them. This means that even if you have a waitlisted ticket you find that, as people cancel unwanted reservations, you move up the waitlist quite quickly. It's always a bit of a worry though that we may not get a confirmed seat.

We have a train booked to Kolkata tomorrow and we are currently waitlist 17 & 18 so will need at least this many people to cancel tickets to ensure we get a seat. If it doesn't look like we'll get on it, we'll have to go to the station and try and get our seats confirmed using the tourist or emergency quota. It's a 30 hour journey to Kolkata - the train leaves at 6am Sunday morning and arrives Monday lunchtime!

We spent a few days in Mumbai before heading up to Ahmedabad for the first test match. It was time well spent as we sorted out a good, cheap hotel to stay in for the second test back in Mumbai.

Ahmedabad - pronounced Armdabad - was a dive. It's a large, sprawling, polluted and congested city roughly the size of London. We guessed it doesn't see many foreigners based on the number of people that wanted to say hi, shake our hands or take a picture!

The streets resembled rubbish tips and it wasn't unusual to see a herd of goats living in the road. There were quite a lot of camels as well. The only thing we got from our visit were colds and sore throats! It did have some great restaurants, though, where we ate some delicious curries and food from the tandoor.

It must have more going for it than that, but we didn't really have the time or inclination to delve any deeper.

England were trounced by India largely due to their diffculties playing spin or adapting to the turning wickets which they like to produce in this part of the world.

After the match, we went straight back to Mumbai by train and headed for the hotel we found on our first visit. For 990 rupees (about £12) per night, it's a good deal for Central Mumbai and we have an amazing view of Mumbai Harbour and the Gateway of India from our window.

Above: The Gateway of India, Mumbai

Above: The Gateway of India, Mumbai

Above: View of Mumbai Harbour from our hotel room. You can just see the Gateway of India on the left

Above: View of Mumbai Harbour from our hotel room. You can just see the Gateway of India on the left

Above: The magnificent Taj Mahal Hotel

Above: The magnificent Taj Mahal Hotel

England fared much better in the second test. They recalled Monty Panesar and the track really suited his style of bowling and he took a hatful of wickets. Backed up by centuries from Alistair Cook and KP, we won the game easily in a little over three days.

Above: Early morning at the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai - the games have been starting at 9.30am.

Above: Early morning at the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai - the games have been starting at 9.30am.

So, the series is nicely poised going into the third test in Kolkata which starts next Wednesday.

A couple of days ago we went for breakfast at Leopold Cafe in Colaba (the area we are staying) which the terrorists targeted during the 2008 attacks. We were quite shocked to see that many bullet holes remain in the walls and internal windows. A waiter told us that two men carrying AK-47's stood at each entrance and fired 120 bullets in two minutes into the crowded cafe. The place itself is very popular with travellers and Indians alike and subsequently it is overpriced but always busy. It features a lot in the book Shantaram which seems to have a bit of a cult following so many travellers head there. A beer will set you back 300 rupees or about £3.50 which is expensive for India.

Oh, and strangely, after my rant about mosquitoes last time, we've hardly seen any since we've been in North-West India.

Until next time....bye for now.

Posted by Rivercity 23:20 Archived in India Comments (5)

Visas, Mosquitoes and Cyclones

rain

This travelling lark is not always what it is cracked up to be. We may be swanning around free-as-a-bird, but there are still restrictions. Visas. At the moment, our lives are dictated by them.

Last week was a complete nightmare for us. The first setback on our meticulously planned trip.

When we applied for our Indian Visas back in February, we requested that the High Commission of India in London add an endorsement to our visas that would allow us to re-enter the country from Nepal or Thailand within a 60-day period of our last visit (as we only intended being in Nepal for 30 days before returning to India). In the event, due to the high temperatures in India, we headed straight to Thailand instead.

Indian visa rules state that you cannot re-enter the country - on a tourist visa - within 60-days of your last visit. The intention of this rule is to stop people doing 'visa runs'. We have triple-entry, 12-month tourist visas. Even with a 12-month visa, you may only stay in the country for a maximum of 180-days (6 months) in one stretch.

The 180-day rule hasn't affected us as we never intended to stay in the country for that period of time, however, with the 60-day re-entry rule designed to stop people nipping over a border in order to get around the 180-day-stay rule, we needed the endorsement. It's complicated...

So, when we got our passports back from the Indian High Commission before we left, our visas contained an endorsement that stated 're-entry from Nepal Thailand'. Great, we thought, just what was needed.

Last Sunday, when we arrived at Colombo International Airport to board our Sri Lankan Airlines flight to Chennai, their check-in staff noticed the endorsement and interpreted it as meaning we could only re-enter India from Nepal or Thailand! Incredibly, they refused us permission to board the flight.

This was the day our Sri Lankan visas expired, so, as of the next day, we would be in the country illegally and Sri Lankan Immigration don't take too kindly to 'over-stayers'. We spent the next four days traipsing around Colombo - to the Indian High Commission and Sri Lankan Immigration - to try and straighten out the situation. This proved harder than we thought.

We received no sympathy from Sri Lankan Immigration and were informed we would need to apply for a visa extension at a cost of 7000 rupees (£35) each or pay the equivalent sum as a fine as we exited the country.

The Indian High Commission, whilst confirming that there was nothing wrong with our visas, suggested we complete 'permission to re-enter' forms at a cost of 1400 rupees each (£7). This was fine except for that fact that in order to submit the forms, we would need to provide copies of our flight tickets in and out of the country.

We didn't really want to do this as we didn't know when, or where, we wanted to go to after India. However, we felt there was little alternative so went ahead and booked return flights to Chennai with SpiceJet. The forms would take two days to process so we submitted them on Tuesday with the flight being on Thursday. When we came to submit the forms, we were informed that the High Commission was closed on Wednesday due to a public holiday! It seemed that everything that could conspire against was.

Our flight was at 15:25 so we would need to be at the airport by 13:25 allowing around one and a half hours to get there from central Colombo. We had been promised our passports back at 10am on Thursday morning so we went straight there on the morning of our flight, and, luckily they were ready in good time for us to get to the airport.

When we arrived at the SpiceJet check-in desk, they also closely scrutinized our visas and, for a moment, it looked like they were not going to let us fly. We were at the end of our tether by this point and nearly decided not to go back to India at all (and miss four test matches we had been looking forward to).

After some discussion they agreed that, provided we got through Sri Lankan Immigration okay, they would let us go. Great news. The next step was getting through Sri Lankan Immigration as four-day 'overstayers'.

Unsurprisingly, when our passports were scanned, their computer systems flashed up an warning and we were promptly marched off to the Chief Immigration Officer's office.

He was a stern man who didn't even want to hear our excuses. In fact, his words were "that's what they always say". He explained that we would need to pay the fine or we would be blacklisted from ever visiting the country again. He also went on to say that if we were sent back from Chennai, they would put us on the next flight to London!

Remember, this all came about because of an endorsement I had asked for on our visas back in February. Just a few small words....

We really didn't know what to do. Board the flight and risk being sent back to Colombo and then London, take our chances with Indian Immigration or stay in Sri Lanka?

Deep down, we knew our visas were fine and the fact that the airline had let us board the plane gave us confidence but we were still nervous wrecks when we landed in Chennai.

We needn't have worried. Indian Immigration didn't even look at the endorsement (or the stamp we had gone to great lengths and cost to arrange) and we were promptly stamped into the country no questions asked.

The whole episode was very costly and caused us untold amount of hassle and anguish. Needless to say, I have sent a complaint letter to Sri Lankan Airlines.

Anyway, we're in India now and back on track - just very much out of pocket.

Mosquitoes. They are a constant threat wherever we go. There is no escaping them. They are sly, seemingly-intelligent and relentless in their pursuit of us. Let our guard down for just a moment, and we can be sure to be scratching at a bite before long.

When we arrived in India we headed straight for Mahabalipuram, 50km South of Chennai, and to a hotel we like there. The mosquitoes here are the worst we have encountered so far. Probably due to a lot of standing water following the monsoon.

We took the cheapest room at the hotel and it was infested with the little blighters. Over the first couple of nights, I managed to get bitten about fifty times and Teresa didn't escape unharmed either. When a room is not sealed and if the hotel doesn't provide mosquito nets - which this one doesn't - we are sitting-ducks as we sleep. The bites themselves, whilst unsightly, are not too much of problem. Dengue Fever is, however, and there is no inoculation against it. It can, and does, kill.

Luckily, we both seem to be in excellent health at the moment so hopefully we have avoided anything too nasty. But it is always at the back of our minds.

Anyway, we have one other, more immediate, thing to worry about - Cyclone Nilam - which is a low pressure system out in the Bay of Bengal. The centre of the storm is due to hit the coast south of Chennai tomorrow evening at 20:30. Fishermen are being told not to go out to sea and schools have been shutting up shop in Chennai.

It's hammering down today but nothing too threatening. Tomorrow, though, should be interesting.

I will post an update if there is anything of note to report.

Posted by Rivercity 02:41 Archived in India Comments (7)

Sri Lanka Part Deux

We've been back in Sri Lanka for two weeks now and spent four nights in Colombo whilst England got humiliated by India. We then took the train to Kandy for the Super Eight games. England didn't fare any better there and were knocked out of the tournament. For some inexplicable reason I only got tickets for two games in Kandy when in fact there were three. So we didn't have tickets for the all-important crunch game against Sri Lanka. Luckily, we bumped into a nice couple from Newbury who were spending two weeks in the country and had bought more tickets than they needed and offered us their spares free of charge (if you're reading, thanks again Chris & Amy).

The train ride through the mountains was amazing. Here are a couple of pictures:

Above: A rocky peak near Kandy.

Above: A rocky peak near Kandy.

Above: Amazing view from the train to Colombo from Kandy.

Above: Amazing view from the train to Colombo from Kandy.

In Kandy we stayed in a rather basic but charming hotel called The Olde Empire. It was adequate but we did find a cockroach in the bathroom one morning. The price and quality of accommodation varies massively from place to place. In Phuket we had a room which wouldn't have been out of place in a four or five star hotel. It was £12 a night and had air-con, TV, fridge, balcony and a reasonable breakfast with top-quality coffee. In Kandy, for the same price, the room had a fan and that's about it (plus mosquitoes and cockroaches).

Above: The Olde Empire Hotel, Kandy.

Above: The Olde Empire Hotel, Kandy.

We stayed at Karon Beach in Phuket which is the next bay along from Patong where all the party-goers head. The beach was amazing but again, due to the season, the sea was incredibly rough. The week before we got there, they held the Quiksilver Surfing Championships at Patong so that's an indication of how big the waves were.

Above: Karon Beach, Phuket.

Above: Karon Beach, Phuket.

Above: The huge waves.

Above: The huge waves.

Above: Dusk at Patong Bay, Phuket.

Above: Dusk at Patong Bay, Phuket.

It's been a busy few weeks for us in terms of the number of places we've visited and miles covered - we haven't stopped in the same place for more than three or four days at a time which has meant the blogging-action has been a bit slow of late. I've started a few entries on our slightly ill-fated boat trip to Koh Phi-Phi Leh and the temples at Angkor but haven't quite managed to complete them yet - will hopefully have them done over the next week or two.

It has been a breath of fresh air coming back to Sri Lanka as we can easily strike-up and have a decent conversation in English. There have been times in SE Asia when we have walked into a hotel or guesthouse and asked "do you have any rooms?" and have been met with blank faces!

We found out that our flight from Bangkok to Colombo had been rescheduled to later in the day via an email from Air Asia. It was originally due to depart at 07.00 but was put back due to Colombo airport being closed for reasons that are unknown to us. It wasn't a problem, however, as it did us a favour as it meant we could take the cheap airport express train to the airport rather than paying for an expensive taxi in the middle of the night. And we could get up in our own time! In Bangkok we stayed in The Atlanta Hotel which has to be seen to be believed. We had read about it in a book and felt we just had to go and stay there. For central Bangkok, it was a bargain at £16 a night. It was pretty basic but comfortable enough.

So, what with the cricket ending sooner than we thought, we have found ourselves back in the place our adventure started out some six and half months ago; Unawatuna. We have landed on our feet though, having got accommadation for 1500 rupees a night (£7.50) with kitchen included. This means we can make tea and cook our own food. This makes a big difference as we don't have to spend silly money at expensive bar/restaurants. And it's only 10 metres from the beach and high enough up that we should be okay if a tsunami hits!

Above: The view from our room in Unawatuna. Happy days!

Above: The view from our room in Unawatuna. Happy days!

Posted by Rivercity 09:56 Comments (6)

Koh Phi-Phi

We arrived on Koh Phi-Phi yesterday after spending three nights in Krabi Town.

Phi-Phi is made up of two main islands; Phi-Phi Don and Phi-Phi Leh. Parts of the film 'The Beach' were filmed at Phi-Phi Leh and we plan on taking a boat trip there tomorrow. It should be amazing but the weather is not too good today so we are keeping our fingers crossed for tomorrow.

We're staying on the main island, Phi-Phi Don which has no roads or vehicles. The scenery is spectacular but the beach is quite dirty with many discarded plastic cups, bottles and cigarette ends. It's also full of revellers looking to party hard and the town is full of bars (which was not really what we expected). We'll spend a few nights here before taking another boat to Phuket.

Above: Arriving at Ton Sai Bay, Phi-Phi.

Above: Arriving at Ton Sai Bay, Phi-Phi.

Above: Dusk over Loh Dalam Bay, Koh Phi-Phi.

Above: Dusk over Loh Dalam Bay, Koh Phi-Phi.

Posted by Rivercity 01:37 Archived in Thailand Comments (3)

Overland from Siem Reap to Krabi

No pictures in this entry. It's just a write-up of our marathon, 31-hour overland journey from Siem Reap to Krabi in Thailand.

We caught a bus from Siem Reap at 7.30am to Poipet at the border with Thailand 140km away. It took 4 hours and cost $4 (£2.70) each. The bus made two stops along the way which didn't help our cause as we needed to catch the 13:55 train to Bangkok from Aranyaprathet. The border was quite busy and it was touch-and-go as to whether we would make it to the station on time.

Once we were stamped out of Cambodia, we joined a long queue of people waiting to cross the border. Eventually we got our visas and were in Thailand. It was a 6km tuk-tuk ride to Aranyaprathet station. This cost 80 Baht or 85p each. In the event, we made it with over half an hour to spare.

The train to Bangkok would take 6 hours and cover 255km. This cost 48 Baht (£1) each and was due to arrive at 19:55. Our next train to Surat Thani was departing at 22:55 so we had enough time to grab some food and drink in a local eatery opposite Hualamphong station (rats and cockroaches included!).

It was a distance of 651km from Bangkok to Surat Thani. It would take just over 9 hours and cost 578 Baht (£12) each.

Once in Surat Thani, we caught a local bus (20 Baht/40p each) from the train station to the bus station 14km away where the bus for Krabi was leaving.

The bus to Krabi cost 150 Baht (£3.10) each and took around 4 hours, covering 150km. Once at Krabi bus station, we took a songtheaw (a pick-up with two benches in the back) the 5km into town. This cost 100 Baht or £1 each.

Distance covered: 1221km
Time taken: 31 hours
Cost: £21 each
Modes of transport: 3 buses, 2 trains, 1 tuk-tuk and 1 songtheaw

Phew!

Posted by Rivercity 00:16 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

Bokor Mountain

On our way back through Kampot, we decided to hire a bike again and visit Bokor Mountain Hill Station about 40km away at an altitude of 1,100m.

Bokor Hill Station was built by the French in the 1920's and used as a retreat to escape the heat of the plains below. It was originally a small resort town but was abandoned in the late 1940's leaving the buildings to become derelict. Its centrepiece was the grand Bokor Palace Hotel and Casino and there is also a Catholic Church up there.

Above: The derelict church. It's quite hard to see as it was overcast at the time the photo was taken.

Above: The derelict church. It's quite hard to see as it was overcast at the time the photo was taken.

In 2008, the whole site was leased out to a large petroleum company in Cambodia, Socimex, for 99 years and they have already started redeveloping it. One positive side to this, is that the road to the top is brand new so it was an easy ride up there. The negative side is that they have started renovating the Bokor Palace Hotel so it can no longer be seen in its original state. They have also built a brand-new hotel complex up there which looks completely out of place.

Above: The now replastered Bokor Palace Hotel and Casino.

Above: The now replastered Bokor Palace Hotel and Casino.

So there wasn't really much to see up there but the ride up and down was good fun and the views were fantastic.

Above: View from Bokor Mountain all the way to the Gulf of Thailand.

Above: View from Bokor Mountain all the way to the Gulf of Thailand.

Above: View from Bokor Mountain with Phu Quoc Island in the distance.

Above: View from Bokor Mountain with Phu Quoc Island in the distance.

Above: A huge statue of (what looks like a female?) Buddha which you can see on the way to the top of the mountain.

Above: A huge statue of (what looks like a female?) Buddha which you can see on the way to the top of the mountain.

We didn't spend too long there which left us enough time to go to Kep in the afternoon. Kep is a small fishing village about 20km from Kampot and is renowned for its crab market. We had lunch perched over the sea in a stilted, wooden shack (restaurant) whilst trying to teach the young waiter some English.

Posted by Rivercity 04:47 Archived in Cambodia Comments (3)

Phu Quoc Island

Getting out of Vietnam was easier than getting in. The biggest problem we had, was that the person taking us over the border only had a $100 bill and they were having difficulty changing it for smaller denomination notes so that they could take their cut before passing us on to the Cambodian driver on the other side (who needed $25 each from the $100 bill for the visas). Eventually it got sorted and the visas were issued fairly quickly after that. Going to Vietnam and getting a new Cambodian visa on the way back - rather than extending our existing ones - saved us enough money to pay for nearly all the transport costs in getting to and from the island.

We ended up spending only seven nights on Phu Quoc but that was plenty enough time to experience and enjoy what it had to offer.

We stayed the first night in the main town, Duang Dong, then moved to a bungalow on Long Beach (the main and most easily accessible beach on the island) for two nights. Long Beach is a stunning 5km stretch of sand but, due to the season and prevalent winds, the sea was incredibly rough and not much fun to swim in.

Above: Long Beach. The noise of the waves crashing in was nearly loud enough to keep us awake at night.

Above: Long Beach. The noise of the waves crashing in was nearly loud enough to keep us awake at night.

After two nights we decided to move back to some cheaper accommodation in town. We had read that the best way to see the island was to rent a moto (moped) so that's what we did for a few days. The traffic wasn't too crazy (the roads were a different matter) and we found it an excellent way to get around and to search out some of the more remote beaches.

On the first day, we headed North in search of a beach called Cua Can. We ended up on some fairly rough dirt tracks and found ourselves in small, remote fishing villages in what felt like the middle of nowhere. Thankfully, the locals did not seem to object to our being there.

When we got to Cua Can, it wasn't much to look at so we carried on for a short while and came across another long stretch of sand that was completely deserted except for two local guys fishing off the rocks. We worked out from our map that it was Vung Bau beach - still on the West of the island so the sea was still fairly rough but we managed to have a swim. Whilst swimming, a large bird of prey - probably a eagle - appeared in the sky and, as we watched it, it moved towards us as if to check us out. It must have had a wingspan of at least five feet and interesting markings on its wings.

Above: Vung Bau beach. There are no signs of tourism (or even any buildings) whatsoever and we had the beach all to ourselves.

Above: Vung Bau beach. There are no signs of tourism (or even any buildings) whatsoever and we had the beach all to ourselves.

Here is a link to a picture of the beach taken in January. You can see how different the sea conditions are.

Above: A picturesque corner of Vung Bau beach.

Above: A picturesque corner of Vung Bau beach.

Above: The 'jungle' dirt tracks that we had to negotiate to find the isolated beaches.

Above: The 'jungle' dirt tracks that we had to negotiate to find the isolated beaches.

On our second day with the bike, we decided to go to a beach on the South-East coast that we had read and heard was beautiful. It was around a 35km journey over varying grades of road surface; sometimes tarmac, sometimes gravel and other times, massively pot-holed sandy tracks.

It took a tiring one and a half hours to get there and the journey was a pain in the backside (literally!) but as soon as we clapped our eyes on the beach, we knew it had been worth it. It had threatened to rain during the ride down but the sun managed to win through eventually and we spent a wonderful afternoon in the most amazing setting.

Bai Sao (Sao Beach) is easily the most stunning beach either of us has ever seen; very fine, pure white sand and clear, flat, turquiose sea. The sea conditions were a complete contrast to the rough waves on the West coast. Apparently, so we were told, this beach is listed as one of the world's top ten. It wasn't completeley untouched by tourism but due to its remote location, it still retained a sense of isolation.

Above: Beautiful Bao Soa, Phu Quoc Island.

Above: Beautiful Bao Soa, Phu Quoc Island.

Above: Taking a picture of ourselves at Bao Sao!

Above: Taking a picture of ourselves at Bao Sao!

The next day, we couldn't really be bothered to go anywhere after the long ride to Bao Sao, but we still had the bike and felt we should utilise it, so, we decided to head inland to visit a local stream and waterfall called Dan Ban. It didn't take long to get there but it wasn't much to look at. Whilst we were there, a huge rainstorm broke out which made the ride back a bit more interesting. Teresa decided to get off at a particularly slippy and rocky part of the track at which point a local came by and offered her a lift. The guy was clearly more experienced on these roads and in the conditions and the lift was gratefully accepted.

Above: Dan Ban stream. It seemed like a popular place for locals to spend a day out eating and drinking.

Above: Dan Ban stream. It seemed like a popular place for locals to spend a day out eating and drinking.

Above: Locals cooking fish at Dan Ban stream.

Above: Locals cooking fish at Dan Ban stream.

Above: Dan Ban stream once the heavens had opened.

Above: Dan Ban stream once the heavens had opened.

We generally spent most of our evenings at the Night Market in town. The market consists of many restaurants serving all manner of seafood. Of particular interest were the sea-urchins. We didn't go there, but the scallops were plentiful, excellent value and delicious.

Above: Seafood at the Night Market, Duang Dong.

Above: Seafood at the Night Market, Duang Dong.

Above: Teresa trying to blend in!

Above: Teresa trying to blend in!

Above: The fishing harbour in Duang Dong.

Above: The fishing harbour in Duang Dong.

Posted by Rivercity 04:47 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Siem Reap, home of Angkor Wat

sunny 30 °C

Here's a short update on where we have been and what we have planned in the next couple of months.

We arrived in Siem Reap (literally meaning 'Defeat of Siam' - Thailand - referring to the centuries-old conflict between the Siamese and Khmer peoples) yesterday having slowly retraced our steps following our unscheduled visit to Phu Quoc Island (new entry on that coming soon). We broke up the return journey by stopping for a few days in Kampot then Phnom Penh before getting the bus to Siem Reap.

We will be spending around two weeks in Siem Reap before travelling overland to Thailand where we will get a new 15-day visa at the border. This should give us just enough time to visit the Andaman Coast in the West (Krabi, Phuket, Koh Phi Phi) which we didn't get to the last time we were there.

On 1 August, the ICC released some more tickets for the T20 World Cup in Sri Lanka. I spent a laborious two hours on the internet trying to get tickets for England's matches and, after much waiting, managed to buy tickets for all their games and potential games up to and including the final (but not the opener against Afghanistan!) for a grand total of $16 for both of us! That's one qualifier against India in Colombo, two Super Eight matches in Kandy, two semi-finals and the final back in Colombo. Flights from Bangkok to Colombo were cheap so we are going to spend a month in Sri Lanka before finally returning to India.

We have got loads of time to see the temples at Angkor so we are in no rush to go yet. We'll probably hire bicycles and ride around the various sites. It's a huge area to cover so we need to carefully select which ones to see. Apart from Angkor Wat, there are important 'must-see' sites at Angkor Thom and Bayon. Admission isn't cheap - $20 for one day, $40 for three days or $60 for seven days. We'll probably opt for three-day passes as I suspect we will be 'templed-out' by then!

We haven't been here long but, unsurprisingly, Siem Reap must be one of the most touristic places we've visited so far. The tuk-tuk drivers are also some of the most persistent we have encountered. We don't want to be rude by ignoring them (after all, we are guests in their country and they are only trying to earn a living) but it can wear a bit thin after a while having to constantly decline their offers of a lift!

More on the temples soon.

Above: The tree-lined Siem Reap river which runs through the city.

Above: The tree-lined Siem Reap river which runs through the city.

Posted by Rivercity 01:12 Archived in Cambodia Comments (1)

Vietnam let us in...

sunny 35 °C

...without a visa!

But it was a nerve-wracking 30 minutes as we were stamped out of Cambodia, walked the 300 yards across no-mans land to Vietnam Border Control and waited to see if they would let us in.

Above: Cambodian Border Control and the Ha Tien Casino Resort.

Above: Cambodian Border Control and the Ha Tien Casino Resort.

Our Cambodian 'fixer' (actually just the minibus owner and operator) was completing the formalities on behalf of the 12 people travelling (we were the only passengers not to have a pre-arranged visa) when he came over to us saying that we had been refused entry - a major setback. We briefly pleaded with the obstructive border guard when another, more senior man entered the room. We quickly explained our situation and he asked us for five dollars each.

Well, I couldn't pull my wallet out fast enough! The cash, unsurprisingly, went straight into the guy's own pocket. No matter. He gave us the stamp we needed to enter the country for 14 days. Strictly speaking, we shouldn't have been allowed to go to Phu Quoc Island but we had already read online that this small point is usually overlooked (provided the backhander has been paid, of course).

Above: Walking into Vietnam.

Above: Walking into Vietnam.

Once we had made it over the border, it was a twenty minute drive to Ha Tien where we were to catch the fast ferry to Phu Quoc Island. The ferry was the marvelously named 'Superdong I'!

Above: Superdong I.

Above: Superdong I.

The ferry crossing was great fun as the vessel bounced across the water at super-high speed. 20 minutes in, we were allowed to go up to the bridge and sat for most of the journey up on deck.

Above: On the bridge.

Above: On the bridge.

Above: Approaching Phu Quoc.

Above: Approaching Phu Quoc.

Posted by Rivercity 08:26 Archived in Vietnam Comments (5)

Kampot Province

overcast 30 °C

We arrived in Kampot yesterday which is a sleepy riverside town around 105km east of Sihanoukville. Our plan was to go back to Phnom Penh via Kampot to renew our visas but it turns out we can cross the border into Vietnam (only 40km away) without having to arrange a visa first (which we thought was the case). We can get another Cambodian visa on our way back over border, apparently, which is cheaper than applying for an extension. Happy days!

The free 15-day Vietnam visa only allows us to visit the 'special economic zone' which is bascially the border area and a large island off the coast, Phu Quoc. It's a shame as we are not too far away from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) - it would have been good to visit there as well but we would have needed to apply for a full visa at the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh. Instead, we shall go and explore the island which we have read has some beautiful beaches.

Kampot is the kind of place where you wouldn't be surprised to see tumbleweed rolling down the street, but it has a nice character about it. We're going to spend a few days exploring the area before heading to another town, Kep, further along the coast and then over to Vietnam.

Above: Ochheuteal Beach, Sihanoukville.

Above: Ochheuteal Beach, Sihanoukville.

Above: View over Kampot and the surrounding hills.

Above: View over Kampot and the surrounding hills.

Tonight we are going to a restaurant called the Rusty Keyhole on the riverfront which is famous in these parts for the BBQ pork ribs they serve. We were there yesterday having already eaten but we saw the ribs and they looked and smelt amazing. Can't wait.

Posted by Rivercity 01:50 Archived in Cambodia Comments (2)

Happy 40th Birthday Teresa!!!!!!

rain 30 °C

Unfortunately, for Teresa's big birthday, we've also got some big weather in the form of torrential rain. This is the first day of really bad weather we've had since we left (excluding the Himalayas). Typical!

Above: The awful weather outside our hotel.

Above: The awful weather outside our hotel.

Above: I arranged a couple of surprises for the Birthday Girl at breakfast.

Above: I arranged a couple of surprises for the Birthday Girl at breakfast.

Above: And flowers.

Above: And flowers.

We came down to Sihanoukville a couple of days ago which is on the coast and was a five-hour bus ride south-west of Phnom Penh. There are some beautiful beaches but, due to the weather, the sea is churned-up and rough so they don't look quite as nice as some of the beaches we have visited so far. We may go 'offshore' to one of the islands in the next few days. The islands are still undeveloped so hopefully we will find a deserted paradise somewhere.

Will post some more pictures of the birthday celebrations (wish you were all here) and of Sihanoukville later.

Posted by Rivercity 23:23 Archived in Cambodia Comments (5)

In.....Cambodia

sunny 35 °C

We've been a bit slack on updating the blog recently but normal service will be resumed shortly. I got a bit carried away with the Everest journal and was determined to complete it before starting on the next bit. I will finish that episode as soon as possible.

After Nepal, we took a direct flight to Thailand. Our original plan was to go back to India first but the pre-monsoon temperatures were so extreme that we decided we needed to head somewhere else, so, Thailand it was. We will add another entry detailing our escapades there in the next few days. In the meantime...

...on Tuesday, we arrived in the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh after a short and bumpy flight from Bangkok. Our Thai visas expired on 4 July so we needed to leave and we opted for Cambodia. It's been a breath of fresh air and we love the place already. To be frank, we found Thailand unfriendly. There were exceptions, but we mostly found ourselves confined to the "tourist trail" and the Thai people who worked in the trade appeared to be tired and generally annoyed with foreigners. There is a massive language barrier as they speak very little English so it was really difficult to get "off the beaten track". It was still very beautiful (particularly Koh Tao) and we had a good time, but it was so less rewarding as we couldn't access the "real" Thailand.

Cambodia is more our kettle of fish, it being friendly, relaxed and rustic. Phnom Penh is a wonderful city.

Today we went to the Genocide Museum (sounds cheerful, doesn't it?) and The Killing Fields just outside the city. It was both heartbreaking and fascinating at the same time. We knew very little of the Khmer Rouge and its regime so it has been a valuable learning experience. Walking through The Killing Fields, we could see clothing belonging to the victims coming up through the earth and, occassionally, bone fragments. It is terrible to think of what happened to the people of this country in the not too distant past.

Our Cambodian visas are valid for one month and we would like to spend some time at the coast and see the temples at Angkor Wat. It sounds like a formality to get a visa extension of 30 days and we are already thinking we will do this so that we don't need rush around too much. Here's a few photos of what we have seen so far:

Above: A beautiful tree-lined avenue in Phnom Penh - the french influence.

Above: A beautiful tree-lined avenue in Phnom Penh - the french influence.

Above: Preparing beef jerky.

Above: Preparing beef jerky.

Above: Chanchhaya Pavillion in the grounds of the Royal Palace.

Above: Chanchhaya Pavillion in the grounds of the Royal Palace.

Above: Part of the Genocide Museum (a school that the Khmer Rouge called S-21 and which they used to imprison and torture traitors)

Above: Part of the Genocide Museum (a school that the Khmer Rouge called S-21 and which they used to imprison and torture traitors)

Above: The museum was filled with photographs of the men, women and children who were brutally murdered by the Khmer Rouge.

Above: The museum was filled with photographs of the men, women and children who were brutally murdered by the Khmer Rouge.

Above: You shouldn't put all your eggs in one basket!

Above: You shouldn't put all your eggs in one basket!

Posted by Rivercity 06:47 Archived in Cambodia Comments (5)

Day 15 Lobuche - Gorak Shep - Everest Base Camp

The plan was to set off early for Gorak Shep, dump our bags when we got there and head for base camp the same day. We spoke to Deepak (the Balaji's guide) and he arranged for their porters to book us a room at the lodge they would be staying at in Gorak Shep. There were only a couple of lodges there and we were concerned that we might not get a room so this was a great help. We joked with them that we could beat the porters there (ha-ha!) and set off at 8.15am. Later in the morning, when we were around half an hour away from Gorak Shep, the porters came back up the path having dropped their bags off at the lodge and gave us the key to our room! They were on their way back to help the family with their remaining bags. These guys are unbelievable - their strength and stamina is incredible.

Above: Looking back down the valley on the walk to Gorak Shep. You can see some people making their way up and they give the surroundings some scale.

Above: Looking back down the valley on the walk to Gorak Shep. You can see some people making their way up and they give the surroundings some scale.

Above: Teresa standing on a big rock at the bottom of the steep part of the trail to Gorak Shep.

Above: Teresa standing on a big rock at the bottom of the steep part of the trail to Gorak Shep.

It was a sunny morning but still quite cold. The trail wasn't too difficult for about an hour and a half but then it climbed steeply for 100 metres or so. It was a major struggle to get up. Once there we could see the Khumbu Glacier in all its glory - we had never seen anything quite like it. Its size is hard to comprehend. There's nothing else in the area to give anything any scale and the vastness of it is immense. It's constantly in motion and we could hear it groaning and cracking as the ice moved.

Above: The Khumbu Glacier flowing down the valley. The glacier is around 12 miles long.

Above: The Khumbu Glacier flowing down the valley. The glacier is around 12 miles long.

At this point we also caught a glimpse of some tents at the top of the glacier; our first view of base camp. It still looked miles away!

Above: This picture was actually taken further on up the trail after Gorak Shep. You can just make out some of the tents of base camp. It still looks miles away even from here.

Above: This picture was actually taken further on up the trail after Gorak Shep. You can just make out some of the tents of base camp. It still looks miles away even from here.

The trail became difficult to follow from now on. There wasn't really a trail at all, just a jumble of rocks and stones that we had to scramble over. It was exhausting work and a lot harder than we had imagined. Every little effort takes a lot out of you at this altitude. The views of the glacier and the mountains were brilliant though.

We arrived in Gorak Shep a couple of hours later at noon. We still had enough time to get to base camp and make it back to the lodge and the weather seemed to be okay. We had a cup of tea and dropped our bags off in our room. The lodge owner reckoned we could do it in five hours so we were encouraged by this, however, we still weren't sure. I was apprehensive as we had already had a tough walk during the morning and we wouldn't have any kit with us if anything went wrong. I had visions of us being stranded at base camp!

Above: Gorak Shep. The peak behind is Lingtren (6749m).

Above: Gorak Shep. The peak behind is Lingtren (6749m).

Above: Pumo-ri with Kala Patthar in the foreground. You can see the trail to the top - we decided against it - it would have been a hard climb.

Above: Pumo-ri with Kala Patthar in the foreground. You can see the trail to the top - we decided against it - it would have been a hard climb.

After much deliberation we decided to go. All we took with us were down-jackets, gloves, water and camera. The sun was still beating down and, with our jackets on, it was incredibly hot. We walked for around an hour when the weather began to change and we noticed clouds building up at the bottom of the valley. This put more doubts into our minds and we were seriously thinking about turning around but we knew that would mean spending another night at over 5000m. Just then, two young British girls came past us and, as they looked like they knew what they were doing, we asked their opinion. One of them (Mollie) told us that she was returning to base camp from Pangboche for an attempt on Everest (when we got back to Kathmandu, I googled Mollie and found her blog - she made it to the top and for a short while was the youngest British woman to have summited Everest). We mentioned our concerns about the weather and our reluctance to carry on and they said "you'll be fine, the weather does this every afternoon!". This was the encouragement we needed so we pressed on with renewed confidence but how wrong those girls were!

Above: On the way to base camp shortly before the storm broke out. The ice above Teresa is the Khumbu Icefall which climbers have to cross to get up Everest. You can't see the camp but it's just below that on the left of the picture.

Above: On the way to base camp shortly before the storm broke out. The ice above Teresa is the Khumbu Icefall which climbers have to cross to get up Everest. You can't see the camp but it's just below that on the left of the picture.

Within 20 minutes, all hell broke loose. The storm quickly developed and before too long we were in the midst of a full-scale blizzard. We were at the point of no return and it wouldn't have made any sense to turn back now anyway. It was probably safer to head to base camp where there would be some refuge. We were quite concerned by now and then the strangest thing happened. Teresa was walking in front of me and suddenly jumped after getting an electric shock. A few seconds later, the same thing happened to me. It was pretty scary - the shocks had come through the tops of our heads and we hadn't got a clue what had caused it so we swiftly moved on. It didn't happen again, thank goodness.

We were now very close to base camp and the route down to the glacier. A large group of people were coming back up the path so we spoke to a guide and asked whether it was safe to cross. His reply was "if it's windy, it's dangerous". Well, it was fairly windy but we figured other people had made it over so we went for it.

The glacier was fairly safe except for one part. Next to one of the freezing lakes, the path narrowed to around a foot wide and was on a slight incline. There was nothing solid to hold onto and it was extremely slippery so we had to be very careful. You can see it on the right in the photo below.

Above: Phil next to a freezing lake and the treacherous path across the glacier.

Above: Phil next to a freezing lake and the treacherous path across the glacier.

We managed to negotiate the glacier and arrived at the entrance to base camp in 15 minutes. It was quite an emotional moment for us after all the mental and physical effort we had put in to get there - we had used reserves of determination we didn't know we had! We had a celebratory hug and quickly took some pictures before heading back to the safety of solid earth. In hindsight, it was a real shame that the weather had intervened. We would have liked to have had a better look around and speak to some of the expeditions. There was a sign next to the boulder which the Indian army had put up inviting anyone into their tent for free tea but we just wanted to get out of there!

Above: At Everest Base Camp (5364m) having completed the 175km hike from Jiri in just over two weeks.

Above: At Everest Base Camp (5364m) having completed the 175km hike from Jiri in just over two weeks.

Above: The start of the icefall. The blocks of ice are the size of houses!

Above: The start of the icefall. The blocks of ice are the size of houses!

Above: Part of base camp seen through the blizzard.

Above: Part of base camp seen through the blizzard.

As soon as we got off the glacier, the storm began to blow itself out and conditions improved. We weren't able to see much on the way up due to the weather (and you can't see Everest from base camp anyway), but, as we walked back down, Everest appeared.

Above: Everest peeking out above the West Ridge.

Above: Everest peeking out above the West Ridge.

Above: Mount Everest in the centre. This is about as much as you can see of it from here.

Above: Mount Everest in the centre. This is about as much as you can see of it from here.

The walk back to the lodge was horrendous as we were both shattered. We staggered like zombies back into Gorak Shep at around 6.30pm feeling very ropey. Here are some more pictures that we took on the way back once the weather had cleared.

Above: A better view of Everest Base Camp.

Above: A better view of Everest Base Camp.

Above: One of the huge lakes in the glacier. It's difficult to show how big it is but the piece of ice sheering off on the right is about the size of a three-storey building.

Above: One of the huge lakes in the glacier. It's difficult to show how big it is but the piece of ice sheering off on the right is about the size of a three-storey building.

Above: A view of base camp and the Khumbu Icefall.

Above: A view of base camp and the Khumbu Icefall.

Above: Looking back down the valley and the remnants of the storm.

Above: Looking back down the valley and the remnants of the storm.

Posted by Rivercity 21:44 Archived in Nepal Comments (3)

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