wpid-img_4068-01-01-resized-1280.jpg

Friday Photo Diary – 29th January

Every Friday I’ll be writing a post with where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to that week, and include my favourite five photos.

Apologies for the lateness of this post… I haven’t lost track of days just yet – see below for my explanation!

After a twelve hour journey (only around five hours actually travelling, the rest waiting), and a definite border scam, Jeni and I finally crossed the border into Laos and boarded a boat to Don Det. One of the Four Thousand Islands in the middle of the Mekong River in southern Laos, Don Det has been described as paradise by many of my friends who’ve travelled there; we couldn’t wait to spend a few days there this week relaxing.

Our guesthouse for the first two nights was situated away from the tiny town strip, on the sunrise side of Don Det. Unfortunately it may have been slightly too wild for us – the first twelve hours brought us a room infested with ants, a spider attack and a pretty scary-looking snake being shoo-ed from the kitchen. We decided to move, but not before rising early on Sunday to catch an incredible sunrise (photo below).

Taking a slight step up in comfort, we ended up justifying our budget blow at the most luxurious (and expensive) hotel on the tiny island – it had a swimming pool. The next four days were spent doing laps, but mostly working on our tans and generally relaxing.

Don Det has a neighbour island to the south, Don Khone, which we did take time away from the pool to explore. Hiring bicycles we rode fifteen minutes to the bridge connecting the islands and headed to a nearby waterfall. Somphamit Waterfalls Park ended up being well-worth exploring; there are several tiers of large falls, which result in rapids within the Mekong. Sadly the current was too strong to go swimming, but there was a beach, and a sunset cafe with gorgeous hut platforms overlooking the waterfalls. After our ‘tiring’ day out we took a nap there before heading back to Don Det.

After six days of doing not much, we were both ready to move onwards, and so yesterday we took a boat back to mainland and a bus north to Champasak for the night.

Practically just a one-night stopover, the small riverside town of Champasak did have one attraction we were keen to visit this morning – Wat Phou. Wat Phou is an Angkor-era temple, the most important one in Laos, and is situated on a hill known locally as ‘Mount Penis’. We had to check it out!

Cabbage Patch Kids
On our journey between Pakse and Savannakhet, Jeni and I experienced an entirely new form of transport – the Cabbage Bus. Two thirds of the vehicle were packed window to window, floor to ceiling, with cabbages. In the third reserved for human passengers, no space was wasted; under every seat and down the aisle were boxes of cabbages and other greens. The bus roof was near collapsing under the weight of several tonnes of veggies stacked under tarp above our heads.

 

The Cabbage Bus

The Cabbage Bus

Packed with greens

Packed with greens

Our bags amongst the cabbages

Our bags amongst the cabbages

The novelty definitely wore off however, as a two and a half hour journey turned into nearly six, and our veggie-filled vehicle dropped us miles from our intended destination leaving us stranded and hungry with nowhere to stay.

 

Here are my favourite five for the week:

 

Don Det Sunrise

Don Det Sunrise

Water Buffalo, Don Det

Water Buffalo, Don Det

Somphamit Waterfalls, Don Khone

Somphamit Waterfalls, Don Khone

Beach at Somphamit

Beach at Somphamit

View from Wat Phou

View from Wat Phou

Yeak Laom Lake

Friday Photo Diary – 22d January

Every Friday I’ll be writing a post with where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to that week, and include my favourite five photos.

 

This week marks our final one in Cambodia, as later today we move on to Laos!

 

Last Saturday was spent using the final day of our Angkor Wat pass, and it was probably my favourite of the three days, despite not seeing too many temples and experiencing a disappointingly-average sunset. We explored our final couple of temples on electric scooter, which is definitely my new favourite mode of transport. It’s quicker and less effort than cycling, but slower and safer than moped!

 

On Sunday it was time to move on to a new city, so we hopped on a local bus south to Kampong Cham. Kampong Cham has a fascinating bamboo bridge, linking the mainland to Koh Paen. The bridge is washed away during the monsoon season and then painstakingly rebuilt each year during the dry season. We hired bicycles and cycled across it, stopping about two thirds of the way where locals were adding extra bamboo layers to the bridge. Considering how on bicycles it felt pretty unsturdy, the biggest surprise was finding out that jeeps and cars are also allowed to pass through! Later on we took a tuk-tuk to see Phnom Proh (Man Hill) and Phnom Srey (Women Hill) for sunset. There is a lovely local legend based here which says a group of men and a group of women were competing to see who could build the tallest mountain before sunset. The women won (Phnom Srey is quite a decent amount taller) as they lit a fire confusing the men into believing the sun had set.

 

The following day we booked a minibus to take us the short journey from Kampong Cham to Kratie. Thank goodness it only took around two and a half hours, as our 10-seat minibus ended up holding 23 people, and Jen and I shared a seat the whole way.

 

Kratie was our time for a much-needed chill out. After a couple of weeks of non-stop sightseeing we gladly spent most of our 24 hours there resting. We did head out for a couple of hours in the afternoon to see Kratie’s most famous residents, the Mekong Irrawaddy Dolphins, found in the small village of Kampi, nearby. We’d picked a perfect time of day to visit (around 2pm), as there was only one other boat on the river, which meant we had the dolphins all to ourselves. We were very lucky and saw dozens of dolphins, however the species have short fins so capturing them on camera proved difficult.

 

Our final stop this week was to Banlung, a small town in the province of Ratanakiri in the northeast of Cambodia. We spent our two full days there walking and cycling to an emerald lake and some local waterfalls. The Ratanakiri area is slightly off-the-beaten-track, so I’ll go into more detail in a future post!

 

After two days of activities we decided to rest our legs and treat ourselves. We spent our final afternoon in Cambodia at Terres Rouge, a gorgeous boutique hotel we found opposite the lake from our accommodation. Lunch there was delicious, but by far the highlight was their full-length swimming pool, where we stayed until sunset.

Here are my favourite five photos of the week:

 

Electric scooter at Bayon Temple

Electric scooter at Bayon Temple

Kampong Cham Bamboo Bridge

Kampong Cham Bamboo Bridge

Fishermen at Kampi

Fishermen at Kampi

Ratanakiri

Ratanakiri

Cha Ong Waterfall

Cha Ong Waterfall

wpid-angkor-wat3-01-resized-1280.jpg.jpeg

Friday Photo Diary – 15th January

Every Friday I’ll be writing a post with where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to that week, and include my favourite five photos.

 

This week has been a hectic one; full of highlights but also a bad week for me health wise.

 

Last Friday Jeni and I found ourselves in the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. Our main reason for a three-day stopover was to explore part of Cambodia’s recent and tragic past, the Khmer Rouge genocide by visiting both Tuol Sleng (S21) Museum and the Choeung Ek Killing Fields. Despite having researched the war and read several books detailing first-hand experiences, neither prepared me for the horrifying torture cells of S21 or the mass graves at the Killing Fields. Seeing the faces of those imprisoned at Tuol Sleng, and artist drawings of the abuse endured was heartbreaking. If you go, the audio guides are a must – extremely descriptive and necessary to make sense of the displays.

 

Afterwards we headed off to Battambang, a riverside city with beautiful French-colonial buildings and a creaky bamboo train (a norry) – the only one in Cambodia. Travelling up to an exhilarating 30km per hour (!), our ride consisted of a bamboo raft placed on top of what looked like two sets of dumbbells. As a single track railway system, when another norry is met travelling the opposite direction, one of the trains must disembark and allow the other to pass – genius. That evening we travelled out of town to Sampeou Mountain to witness the dusk exodus of tiny bats flying out of a cave in a constant stream. This daily ‘show’ went on for at least 30 minutes, so we sat down with cold drinks and watched as they flew straight over us.

 

The following morning Jeni and I explored the early 20th century colonial buildings and a Buddhist temple that caught my eye, by bicycle, before boarding our next bus to Siem Reap.

 

Recently voted by Lonely Planet as the number one travel sight in the world, and the main reason to visit Siem Reap, is Angkor Wat. Purchasing a three-day pass we spent the rest of our week exploring many of the temples and temple ruins contained within the archaeological Park. We still have one day on our ticket, and have left the largest complex – Angkor Thom – for tomorrow. Here are five things that surprised me about Angkor Wat:

 

  • The temples are all very different. They vary in size, design (some are just towers, some are enormous multi-chamber complexes), and were built during the time of over 15 different rulers.
  • The areas surrounding the temples are beautiful. I think I’d imagined a flat, dusty surround to the temples, and was surprised to find instead largely forested areas, water buffaloes working rice paddies, bodies of lotus flower-covered water and green, grassy fields.
  • People live there. Surrounding the temples are small villages (we passed through at least three or four on our way to Banteay Srei), and many of the local homes are open to tourists as cafes or market stalls.
  • The roads are dusty and polluted. Obviously I expected Angkor Wat to be busy, but the roads are extremely dusty, and big lorries travel through regularly. Add to that the tourist traffic (tuk-tuks, scooters, tour buses and cars) and local traffic (farm carts, scooters, trucks) and we ended both days coughing and feeling filthy.
  • My favourite temples were the ones I hadn’t heard of. Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm (the ‘Tomb-Raider’ temple) definitely didn’t disappoint, but I preferred the gorgeous scenery at Neak Pean and the architecture of Prah Khan.

 

The low point of my week is that I spent a good amount of it in various hospitals after catching bronchitis. The medications given to me in Phnom Penh made me feel even worse, so another day was spent in Siem Reap seeing new doctors. Getting sick abroad is always so time consuming and costly, but with a new (and huge) dose of meds I’m finally recovering.
On a brighter note, here are my favourite five shots from this week:

Sampeou Mountain bats

Sampeou Mountain bats

All aboard the bamboo train!

All aboard the bamboo train!

A temple-eating tree - Ta Som

A temple-eating tree – Ta Som

Angkor Wat roads

Angkor Wat roads

The spooky Lake surrounding Neak Pean

The spooky Lake surrounding Neak Pean