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Seven Wonders of Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya is one of my favourite places to visit in Thailand. It has a great selection of historical temples, it’s very easy to navigate and has a great foodie scene.

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the historic city of Ayutthaya was the capital of Thailand from 1350 to 1767, when it was almost burnt to the ground by invading Burmese armies. The temple ruins that remain are impressive, but vary greatly in condition.

Although it is one of the most popular areas of Thailand to visit, I went in December (peak season) and it never felt crowded.

Take the train there

Most visitors to Ayutthaya will travel from Bangkok, and whilst there are plenty of day tours from the city, I’d recommend taking a train instead and spending a couple of nights. The scenery for the 90 minute ride is gorgeous, and when an ordinary class ticket costs just 15 baht (approximately 30p), it just makes sense!

Thailand Train

See the temples by bicycle

Cycling around the pancake-flat historical park is definitely the highlight of my visit to Ayutthaya. Most of the temples are located close to each other in the central island of the city, but even those outside the city river border are within a 20 minute ride. Exploring by bicycle gives complete freedom to see temples of choice. Some of my favourite, and the easiest to reach, include Wat Maha That, Wat Phra Si Samphet and Wat Lokkaya Sutharam.

Wat Maha That

Wat Maha That

Wat Maha That - Buddha's head encased in the roots of a tree

Wat Maha That – Buddha’s head encased in the roots of a tree

Wat Phra Si Sanphet

Wat Phra Si Sanphet

Wat Lokkaya Sutharam

Wat Lokkaya Sutharam

Wat Chai Watthanaram

Wat Chai Watthanaram

Visit the Floating market

The busy and colourful floating market is great to spend an hour or so wandering around. It hosts around 200 stalls selling a variety of food, handicrafts and souvenirs, although I definitely spent most of my time feeding and playing with some goats penned up by the river.

Ayutthaya Floating Market

Ayutthaya Floating Market

Floating Market

Food Stalls

Goats @ Floating Market

Ayutthaya Floating Market

See The Million Toy Museum

This quirky museum is a perfect side attraction during a day of temple visits. Whether it actually holds a million different toys I’m not entirely sure, but it definitely brought back childhood memories of toys forgotten.

Million Toy Museum

Million Toy Museum

Donkey & Shrek

Donkey & Shrek

Yoda @ Million Toy Museum

Yoda @ Million Toy Museum

Army of Robots

Army of Robots

Creepy Dolls

Creepy Dolls

Take a River Cruise

For a different temple perspective and for a peek into local river life, a boat ride along the Chao Phraya and Lopburi Rivers is a must. I took an hour long cruise just before sunset.

Wat Chai Watthanaram from the water

Wat Chai Watthanaram from the water

Ayutthaya River Cruise

Ayutthaya River Cruise

Ayutthaya River Cruise

Ayutthaya River Cruise

Pick a Good Temple for Sunset

Sunset at a temple in Ayutthaya is a must-see, but make sure you pick the right one. Everyone recommends Wat Chai Watthanaram, and whilst it was incredible, it’s also extremely busy. A good spot if you’re looking for solitude is at Wat Phukao Thong, a short ride out of the city. You can climb the stupa here for a great sunset shot over the surrounding fields.

Sunset at Wat Chai Watthanaram

Sunset at Wat Chai Watthanaram

Wat Chai Watthanaram

Wat Chai Watthanaram

Wat Phukhao Thong

Wat Phukhao Thong

King Naresuan the Great Monument - located next to Wat Phukhao Thong

King Naresuan the Great Monument – located next to Wat Phukhao Thong

River sunset

River sunset

Fit your Ayutthaya Visit around a Festival

Like a lot of Thailand, Ayutthaya hosts a good amount of festivals throughout the year. Whilst I was visiting in December, I was lucky to encounter the Thai Life Festival, which was spread out amongst the temple ruins. I didn’t attend the pricey sound and light show, but instead spend hours walking around the various food stalls, market shops, craft fairs and amusement parks.

Ayutthaya Thai Life Festival

Ayutthaya Thai Life Festival

Ayutthaya Thai Life Festival

Ayutthaya Thai Life Festival

Ayutthaya Thai Life Festival

Georgetown Street Art

Street Art of Georgetown

Georgetown is the main city on the island of Penang, in Malaysia. One of Georgetown’s most famous attractions are the many murals found around this UNESCO Heritage town. The most popular of these are painted by the Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic, who was commissioned in 2012 during the annual Georgetown Festival. I spent a morning one day wandering around locating each of them, as well as many others drawn by local artists.

 

Here are my favourites:

Little Children on a Bicycle

Little Children on a Bicycle

This is one of Zacharevic’s pieces and is easily the most popular street art in Georgetown – it is almost permanently surrounded by crowds of tourists.

Children on a Swing

Children on a Swing

This piece is by an artist called Louis Gan, and is great for posing on the swing next to the children.

Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee

Part of the 101 Lost Kittens Project, this one is called ‘Bruce Lee would never do this…’. The project contains 12 cat themed murals to create awareness towards stray animals.

Boy on a Bike

Boy on a Bike

This is another of Ernest Zacharevic’s paintings.

Cultural Girls

Cultural Girls

Kungfu Girl

Kungfu Girl

Indian Boat Man

Indian Boat Man

This boatman, painted by Julia Volchkova, is huge.

Orangutan Street Art

Orangutan Street Art

Temple Mural

Temple Mural

Please Care and Bathe Me

Please Care and Bathe Me

Also part of the 101 Lost Kittens, I loved the bright colours of this one. It took us ages to find as it a tiny compared to other street art.

Elephant Pipe

Elephant Pipe

Down the Rabbit Hole

Down the Rabbit Hole

 

Krabi Cliffs

Friday Photo Diary – 18th March

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.

 

Last Saturday I started the tedious two day journey back to Yangon from Hsipaw in the eastern Shan state. Starting early, I boarded the once daily train back over the Goteik Viaduct, arriving in Pyin Oo Lwin by late afternoon. From here I was advised to take a bus back to Mandalay, which would shave three or four hours off my travel time. Finding a tuk tuk to take me to the local bus station proved difficult, but after some heavy negotiations we agreed a price of just less than $1. Assuming that the drive would be just a short distance (Pyin Oo Lwin is a relatively small town) I was surprised to realise twenty minutes later, and having checked Google Maps, that I was several miles out of the town and on my way towards Mandalay. Could it be that I’d negotiated a $1 ride all the way to the city? Two and a half, rather bumpy, hours later and the answer was apparently, yes.

 

After a very brief nights sleep in Mandalay, I boarded another train south to Yangon, departing at 6am. This is one journey where travelling first class does not give any more comfort above lower, and I spent the entire ride wishing I’d paid for an $80 flight instead. Fifteen hours in a carriage which I doubted the temperature dropped below 40 degrees, and I eventually found myself in a luxury airport hotel in Yangon, for the short six hours before my flight out of Burma.

 

After an emotional goodbye to a country that I couldn’t help but fall in love with, and I was back in Bangkok once again – my eighth time in the capital. Reunited with Jeni, we spent the next two days shopping, eating and drinking gin (almost impossible to source in Burma).

 

On Wednesday the two of us took a far more comfortable Thai train from Bangkok down to Surat Thani, travelling overnight in an air-conditioned sleeper carriage, and from there a short bus ride to Krabi town; the starting point of our Thai island hopping.

 

Today we left the comforts of our hotel swimming pool, and explored the number one local attraction – Tiger Cave Temple, or Wat Tham Seua. After a very sweaty climb up 1,237 uneven steps, we made it to the top and were rewarded with incredible views over Krabi’s landscapes; karst cliffs, crystal-blue rivers and green plantations.

 

I also got to try out my new camera, an Asian version of GoPro I purchased in Bangkok – see if you can guess which photo was taken using it!
Here are my favourite five for the week:

Goteik Viaduct

Goteik Viaduct

Krabi

Krabi

Temple details

Temple details

View from Tiger Cave Temple

View from Tiger Cave Temple

Pyin Oo Lwin

Friday Photo Diary – 11th March

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 my absence the past two or three weeks; wifi connection in Burma has been an issue, along with other excuses I won’t bore you with.

 

Last Friday I departed Inle Lake, where I’d just finished a beautiful two day trek around the Shan state from Kalaw. Arriving into Mandalay by minibus, the last royal capital of Burma, I had nothing planned other than a few days of R&R.

 

On Monday, my final day in Mandalay, I took a taxi to the nearby town of Amarapura to watch the sun set over U Bein bridge. Believed to be the longest and oldest teakwood bridge in the world, U Bein bridge is busiest at sunset, when locals and tourists gather to admire the scenery around Taungthaman Lake. Whilst there I was joined by three monks who wanted their photo taken with me – much to my delight, as monks generally don’t talk to foreign women.

 

Early the following morning (4am) I boarded a train northeast to Pyin Oo Lwin, a hill station and the former summer capital under British rule. I travelled ‘ ordinary’ class, or lower class, and was seated on a hard wooden bench in a mosquito-filled carriage for the four hour journey.

 

Pyin Oo Lwin was a literal breath of fresh air, in comparison to other towns and cities I’ve visited in Burma so far. Immensely clean (no litter), green and full of brick, colonial buildings, it appeared to have been dropped there straight out of 1900s England. A horse and carriage was waiting for me on arrival to take me to my British-built guesthouse.

 

Later that day my driver turned up to show me around town in the same carriage, an 1885 Indian-built wooden wagon. He took me to see various British colonial buildings, including Candacraig Hotel and a school, and to the Botanical Gardens, which were full of roses and pansies, and a lake of swans!

 

On Wednesday I boarded the train once again, this time ensuring I secured an upper class seat. The seven hour train ride between Pyin Oo Lwin and Hsipaw, my next destination, is named as one of Burma’s highlights and is also written about in Paul Theroux’ book ‘The Great Railway Bazaar’. The reason for this, other than the gorgeous Shan countryside it travels through, is that the train crosses the Goteik Viaduct, which when built in 1900, was the longest railway trestle in the world.

 

After a couple of days relaxing in Hsipaw, I have a two days of non-stop train and bus travel to get back to Yangon in time to fly to Bangkok on Monday. Here I will reunite with Jeni and continue our travels south through Thailand and into Malaysia.
Here are my favourite five for the week:

 

onks at U Bein bridge

Monks at U Bein bridge

Pyin Oo Lwin Botanical Gardens

Pyin Oo Lwin Botanical Gardens

Pyin Oo Lwin taxi

Pyin Oo Lwin taxi

Goteik Viaduct

Goteik Viaduct

Sunset at U Bein bridge

Sunset at U Bein bridge

Burma weaving

Friday Photo Diary – 19th February

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 I finally made it into Burma! Burma (or Myanmar, as it is officially known) has long been at the top of my Asia travel list, and I’m incredibly excited to be at the beginning of a four week journey here.

 

After leaving Jeni in Luang Prabang, Laos, last week, I made my way to the bus station to board my 20+ hour bus over to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. Unfortunately I realised upon checking in that the agency I’d used to purchase my bus ticket had not booked my seat and so, after a frustrated phone call and some persuasion on my part, I ended up on a wooden stool next to the driver. This was obviously not ideal for an overnight journey. Thankfully not long after departure a local gentleman offered to exchange seats with me so that I could get some rest; I’m not sure I’ve ever been so grateful as I settled in for the night without too many further interruptions.

 

Arriving in Chiang Mai some 23 hours later, I’d set aside a day or two to catch up with a friend from home, and as he works with one of the minority tribes in Burma I also gained valuable information for my upcoming trip.

 

On Tuesday morning I made the final part of my journey into Burma by taking a six hour bus south to Mae Sot, where luck would have it, I met up with our Swedish trekking companions, Martin and Oliver, who were crossing the border that afternoon also. The crossing itself was far quicker and easier than I’d anticipated; after getting stamped out of Thailand it was a five or so minute walk over the friendship bridge to the Burmese border control in Myawaddy. Here we were ushered past a queue of locals into the ‘foreigners office’ where forms were completed and photos taken and we were back outside ten minutes later.

 

It was during the entry process that we met a chatty and near-fluent (in English) Burmese man who afterwards took us to a money changing counter and then helped locate our guesthouse. The cheapest rooms available in town were $18 each – a huge increase from the prices I’d paid in other countries, and definitely not a step up in quality – this provided a tile-covered room of 3m x 3m, with no window, a small bed and fan, and shared squat toilet and cold water shower facilities. This didn’t deter me much; I’d set my accommodation expectations fairly low and after all, it was only one night.

 

Early the following morning I was awoken by my self-appointed guide from the previous day. I’d mentioned to him that I’d be taking a bus to Mawlaymine that day – and at 8am he was waiting for me with a car to take me there along with two other travellers who’d crossed the border that morning. After a rushed pack and no time to shower or breakfast, we were on our way!

 

We travelled ‘family’ style; the car seats taken out and four of us led out in the back for the bumpy five hour drive, stopping regularly (every ten or so minutes) for bribe money to be given to various characters – some military, some villagers. Breakfast was, to my delight, dhal curry and roti.

 

In Mawlaymine I checked into Breeze Guesthouse, a busy and friendly-run place with cell-like rooms, free breakfast and hot showers. To my amazement I found a cafe across the street which not only had great wifi (something I wasn’t sure I’d find until Yangon), but also served coke floats and potato smileys; triggering wonderful memories of childhood treats.

 

Yesterday I booked onto a group trip to Ogre Island (Bilu Kyun), just across the river from Mawlaymine. Ogre Island got its name from a local legend that the villagers there ate young men and consequently became ugly! The trip was a perfect introduction to Burmese village life, starting with an invite to a rare celebration, visits to a variety of family craftsmen and ending with a swim in a local bathing pool.

 

Burma so far has been incredible; the food is delicious, the scenery beautiful and the people are the warmest and friendliest I’ve come across. Just now as I’m writing this a truck of school children has pulled up and they’re all waving and vying for my attention – teacher included.

 

Here are my favourite five:

 

Mon household, Ogre Island

Mon household, Ogre Island

Sleeping cat on Ogre Island

Sleeping cat on Ogre Island

Bilu Kyun countryside

Bilu Kyun countryside

Weaving, Ogre Island

Weaving, Ogre Island

Rubber Factory, Ogre Island

Rubber Factory, Ogre Island

Luang Prabang Trekking

Friday Photo Diary – 12th February

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.

 

After a day of recovering from one of Vang Vieng’s infamous Friday jungle parties, Jen and I took to the Nam Song in kayaks on Sunday with our friend Toby who is visiting for a two week holiday. The scenery was outstanding; towering mountains to one side and villages and fields to the other with local children bathing and playing as we paddled by. Half-way down we came across several party bars set up for the numerous tubers who drink their way down the river each day. After a gin or few, the kayaking got slightly out of control and mine ended up sinking, twice.

 

After delaying our departure from Vang Vieng by an extra day, we finally made our way north to Luang Prabang on Monday, with Toby still in tow. On the terrifying bus ride through and over the mountains, we were all rewarded with what I believe are the most beautiful views in Laos. Sadly I wasn’t able to take any photos to back this up.

 

Upon reaching Luang Prabang we had a decision to make – would we travel a further nine hours north to the trekking mecca of Luang Namtha, or stay put and trek in the area I’d previously visited? In the end we chose the latter, as it made sense time-wise and meant we could join a trekking group with some Swedish friends we’d made. I’d recommended using the same company that I’d trekked with last summer, so we actually ended up hiking the very same trail I’d already travelled.

 

Being a completely different season, and therefore very different weather conditions (hot and dry this time, instead of wet and humid), the hike was an entirely different experience for me. Instead of hills of green rice fitrekking, flowing, muddy rivers to cross I found acres of deserted farm land overgrown with colourful mountain flowers and grazing buffalo. Stopping in each of the Khmu and Hmong villages it was fascinating to see the same houses and families, only eight months later.

 

Arriving at the Khmu village for our overnight stay, exhausted after seven hours of trekking, I showed Jeni around the village of 85 families and took photos of things I’d missed the first time. After dark, a huge dinner was served and we spent the evening playing cards and drinking the local rice whisky (this was needed for a good nights sleep in the fairly comfortable, but very basic communal huts).

 

The second day started similar to last time – with a wake-up call I can only presume was the slaughtering of a pig outside our hut. After coffee and breakfast we said goodbye to our Khmu hosts and took a different route out of the village. Last year I kayaked back to Luang Prabang, so day two this time was a new trail for me also. A much flatter three hour strolls took us through two further village to the river where we boarded a local boat to the nearby Tad Sae waterfalls. These multi-tiered falls are best seen during wet season, but were still pretty spectacular for our visit. After an hour or two of relaxing and swimming, our boat took us back to the city before dark.

 

Today Jen and I are parting ways for a month – Jen is about to take a 24 hour bus across the border to Hanoi in Vietnam, and I am travelling west through Thailand and into Myanmar where I should arrive in the south on Monday evening.

 

Here are my favourite five for the week (okay I lied – this week there are six):

 

Trekking Luang Prabang

Trekking Luang Prabang

Mountain views

Mountain views

Khmu village

Khmu village

Khmu children

Khmu children

River view

River view

Tad Sae Waterfall

Tad Sae Waterfall

Vang Vieng

Friday Photo Diary – 5th February

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.

 

On this sunny Friday you find me in one of favourite places in Southeast Asia – Vang Vieng. With a stunning mountain backdrop and the Nam Song river running next to this small town, it is easy to see why I have been raving to Jeni about visiting, and also why I have spent more combined time here than anywhere else in Laos.

 

After our dramatic journey of last week, I wish I could say things improved for us both this week. They didn’t. On Saturday our six hour ride from Savan to Vientiane took well over 10 hours, but we were extremely grateful that it was a human only kind of bus.

 

Having visited Vientiane on my trip to Laos last summer, I was looking forward to seeing more of a city I feel I didn’t devote much time to previously. Jeni and I hired a tandem bike for a cycle around the Laos capital one day, taking in the Patuxai Arch (which resembles the Arc de Triomphe in Paris), the waterfront and also Talat Sao – Laos’ only shopping mall. The rest of our five days in the capital were spent arranging visas, and walking between various cafes and bars dotted around the centre. On one such day we were sat outside a wine bar when from behind us there was a deafening crash and the air filled with dust. Part of a deserted building on the opposite side of the road had fallen two storeys onto the pavement, taking power cables with it and sending debris across the road. The wreckage reminded me of earthquake damage I’d seen only on the news (on a much smaller scale, of course), and Jen and I were both shocked at how something that destructive can occur so suddenly.

 

After a day of relaxing and catching up on old Friends and Sex and the City episodes yesterday, we decided to get out and explore Vang Vieng today. Taking a share-van around 15km from town, we set out on foot to see four different caves in the area – Elephant, Loup, Hoi and Water Cave. The scenery around the caves was beautiful, with views of the Nam Song, rice paddies, bamboo trees and of course, the mountains. We hired a guide to see more of Hoi Cave, which stretches out for around 1km underground.
Here are my favourite five for the week:

 

Patuxai Arch at sunset

Patuxai Arch at sunset

Patuxai Arch

Patuxai Arch

Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng view from our balcony

Vang Vieng view from our balcony

Village in Vang Vieng

Village in Vang Vieng

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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

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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