Toby The Testers Travels – Phnom Penh

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Arrival at Phnom Penh

We took the Giant Ibis coach from Siem Reap and arrived into Phnom Penh late afternoon. Our accommodation for the trip was iRoha Garden Hotel and Spa. After the relatively basic accommodation at Bunyong Homestay we were pleased to see a large swimming pool, restaurant, bar and AC in the large double room.
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In the evening we ate at an awesome Mexican place, Taqueria Corona then headed to an area popular with expats, Bassac Lane which has lots of small trendy bars.

Toul Slang Museum and Killing Fields of Choeung Ek

Our first full day we met Pichenda Our guide for the day.
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The two main locations in Phnom Penh are incredibly tough visits. The Tuol Sleng Museum(S21 Prison) and Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. Very emotional places full of dreadful stories about the worst of humanity. If you are in Phnom Penh Tuol Slang is worth visiting with a guide to hear the stories of the prisoners. I wouldn’t recommend the Killing Fields as the site isn’t as respectfully managed as it should be. Through erosion the pathways around the mass graves have exposed bones and clothing of the victims. However travelling with a guide will allow you to move through more respectfully. A raised walkway or better fencing could be a better option for the site.
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Later that evening we headed to FCC bar for some drinks. This bar and hotel was important significance in the history of Cambodia as it’s where most of the journalists reports of the country would come from.

We had hoped to visit Friends, an ethical restaurant, which provides on the job training to disadvantaged of Cambodia but unfortunately the booking got messed up, maybe next time.

Mekong River Cruise

Our second full day we took the opportunity to relax in the hotel grounds and swim in the pool. Pretty much the first downtime since arriving in Cambodia.
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In the evening we had booked a sunset cruise along the Mekong with tour company Phoceamekong. We had some problems finding it initially as we went to the “local” port with it’s many run down boats for hire at only $5, worth checking out if you are on a budget and can swim. The sunset cruise we took had unlimited drinks and BBQ so we made the most of that. After the cruise we ended our trip with a walk along the river to the Royal Palace and a Tuk Tuk back back to the hotel.
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We spent two full days and 3 nights at Phnom Penh. I think we stayed a little too long, you’d get to see most of the city in 1 full day. The city itself isn’t that pleasurable to navigate due to the intense traffic, pollution, poorly lit pavements and security concerns at night. We were just thankful our hotel was a peaceful escape from the hectic city.

Tomorrow, another bus, this time to Otres beach, Sihanoukville.

Toby The Testers Travels – Siem Reap – The End

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This is the final part of my blog posts about my time in Siem Reap. You can read my previous posts here:

The Beginning
The Middle

Day 3 – Temple Touring

The first Temple on our final day was Jungle ruin Preah Khan, one of the largest Temple complexes. There is still evidence of the dense Jungle that took over the temple whilst deserted. Walking through we saw some huge spiders and hundreds of huge spider webs!
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Next we headed out of the central temple area 30k from Angkor Thom to Banteay Srei. This temple is considered to be the “jewel in the crown of Angkorian artisanship” as it’s intricate design is carved from a pink coloured stone. The carvings in the stone were incredible and amazing to think it was built in AD 967.
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On the way back to our lunch stop at a restaurant overlooking Sra Srang we stopped to observe a number of land mine excavation sites. Bun told us how unfortunately the area used to be littered with land mines. In fact tourists are still advised not to tread to far away from the paths in this area.

Cambodian Pub Street

As I mentioned in my previous post Siem Reap has a popular tourist street called “Pub St” which is full of western pubs and restaurants which isn’t at all very “Cambodian”.

To experience the “Real Cambodia” our Homestay host, Bun, took us to the Cambodian Pub street for the evening. We were kind of expecting a street of bars but it was a long, long road full of market stalls, street food, amusement rides and thousands of Cambodian families enjoying picnics. There must of been about 10,000 people there, more than usual due to the nations River Festival, and we were the only 2 “westerners” I saw!IMG_7451.JPGBun walked us through the crowds pointing out some of the delicacies on offer; Pigs Anus, Buffalo Testicles, Frog, Foetus, mmmmm…..Tasty. As we had a 6hr bus ride the next day(without a toilet) I politely declined. IMG_7548.JPGIMG_7551.JPGIMG_7547.JPGIMG_7552.JPGIMG_7549.JPG
We sat down for a picnic like the rest if the families. Joining us with Bun were his extended family, about 20 or so. We also got to meet one of Buns friends, Mr. Tan who was also a tour guide.IMG_7554.JPGIt was such an authentic experience to end our time with our Cambodian family. With Sadness our time staying with Bun in Siem Reap came to an end the next morning as we jumped on the bus to continue our Cambodian adventure to Phnom Penh.IMG_7031.JPG

Toby The Testers Travels – Siem Reap – The Middle

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This blog post is a continuation of my series on Siem Reap. You can read the previous post, The Beginning, here.

Day 2 – Temple Touring

4:30am the alarm rings, it is time to visit Angkor Way for Sunrise! Every day thousands of tourists rise early to get to Angkor Wat. Luckily our guide Bun knew the perfect spot to watch the sunrise with few tourists. It was so peaceful and was like stepping back through time as the morning mist was burnt away by the rising sun. If you ever go to Siem Reap, the sunrise at Angkor is a must, but try and avoid the large crowds if you can by using local knowledge.
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As we avoided the crowds it meant at 6:15am we left quickly to get over to Ta Prohm(Tomb Raider) temple before it got busy. Rather than take the usual trail to the temple we parked up at the edge of the jungle and trekked through. The number of spiders in the trees and what looked like snake tracks in the sand was quite daunting! After 20mins we arrived at Ta Prohm. With only a handful of tourists in the temple it meant we could easily enjoy the temple sights and take some awesome photos. This temple is famous for the trees that have taken over the temple and it’s use in the Tomb Raider film.
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After Ta Prohm we trekked through the jungle again to another deserted temple, we were the only people there. Also taken over by the Jungle we climbed over collapsed walls to get into the centre of the temple.

By 10am we had already been out 5hrs so headed back for breakfast and a snooze.

Silk Farm and Tonlé Sap Lake

In the afternoon we headed to something different to the temples. We made a short visit to the Silk Farm to see how traditional methods are still being used to produce some of the worlds best silk.

Then we headed to Tonlé Sap Lake which has people living on the lake in floating villages. The usual tourist track is to go to the Vietnamese village but instead we headed a little bit further away to the Cambodian Floating village which is on a different part of the lake. Again, this allowed us to experience the real Cambodia far away from the large tourist groups.
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The boat journey was rather hilarious. The water levels were quite low leading to the lake so a number of times the boat required a push. Our driver must of only been 14 but he seemed at home at the wheel.
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In the evening we stopped by Pub St to meet some friends for food at Cafe Central and drinks at Cheers, Red Piano and the Sun Inn.

Nearly 24 hours after waking up for sunrise we headed back to Bunyong Homestay.

The final part of my blog on Siem Reap will cover the Pink Temple, Banteay Srei, and the Cambodian Pub Street.

Toby The Testers Travels – Siem Reap – The Beginning

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Having spent 5 days in Siem Reap there’s far too much to fit into a single post so I’ll break it into 3 parts; The Beginning, The Middle and The End.

Bunyong Homestay

After the short flight from Bangkok we arrived into Siem Reap airport. To experience the “Real Cambodia” and avoid the tourist tracks we decided to try the Bunyong Homestay. Bun who’s family we would be staying with met us at the airport and we immediately felt like we had made a new friend! Buns story is truly inspirational which I will go into at the end of this post.

The Homestay is a few minutes from downtown Siem Reap along a bumpy dirt track. It has all the basic needs you’d require and is in a very secluded setting overlooking a small lake. We were welcomed as part of the family by brother Bun.
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That evening after relaxing on the balcony overlooking the lake we joined Buns family(Mother, Brother, Sister, Nephew, Dog(Lillie) and two other guests) for a traditional Cambodian dinner. The main delight of the meal was in fact; fried Snake with chilli and lemongrass washed down with Spider(Tarantula) Wine which was all surprisingly tasty!
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We then ventured out to Pub Street Downtown with Bun. We went to a bar called Cheers and had a couple $0.50 local beers before the street got too crowded. Unfortunately the Pub Street is a little chaotic filled with neon bars and dreadful music. There are some nice chilled out restaurants/bars though just off pub street. Anyway, we didn’t come here to party, we came to see the Temples!

Temple Touring – Day 1

Siem Reap has over 300 ancient Temples so it’s impossible to see them all. Luckily our international award winning Cambodian tour guide Bun sorted a great schedule for us. First up was Angkor Thom.

Most tourists enter through the overcrowded Southern gate but instead bun took us around to West Gate. Equally as impressive but the only people there were us and some young children collecting Water Lillie’s from the moat surrounding Angkor Thom. Incredible start!
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Heading into Angkor Thom we toured some of the smaller Temples, walked along the Terrace of the Elephants and headed to the first big hitter, Bayon, the temple of the four faces.
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We then took the short ride to the masterpiece of Siem Reap, Angkor Wat. The sight as you walk towards the temple and through the gates is mind blowing. It’s hard to imagine what this ancient city of 1 million people would of been like. Out tour guide shared with us stories from a Chinese ambassador who visited during the Angkor era and the artists impressions of what it would be like are incredible. Golden giants lighting the sky.
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After a morning of touring the temples it was time for some rest back at the Bunyong Homestay.

The Story of Bun

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In the late afternoon Bun took us on a bike ride through the local villages of Siem Reap. There are 4 million visitors each year who come to the area but many don’t venture away from the temples, hotels or pub street.

Despite the tourism Siem Reap is still the 2nd poorest city in Cambodia. On our bike ride Bun showed us the two sides of Siem Reap, the local village and the posh hotels.

We travelled through some of the slums in Siem Reap where Bun told the stories of the villagers hardship. As privileged westerners what we saw was obviously very difficult to take in. The stories were heartbreaking. We travelled the short distance to the road of posh hotels where the difference was incredible. Huge, well maintained hotels with tourists from all over the world bused in and out every day.

Returning to the Homestay Bun shared his story over dinner. Until recent years Bun was also living in the slum. He showed us his old home where he lived with his Mother, Brother, Nephew and Sister which was best described as a parking garage you’d find here in the West. Growing up in difficult conditions at 22, unable to speak any English, he became a Monk to try and improve his families life. Since then he has worked tirelessly for the past 15 years as a tour guide. With an attitude of “Work Hard, Work Smart” Bun has managed to build a home for him and his family. Not settling for providing for his family, Bun also houses 4 students from a poor village outside Siem Reap to give them a better education. He also has big plans to help the slum children of Siem Reap which I’ll touch on in a later blog post.

It was a honour to hear his story and be part of his family at their Home. Looking at the coaches full of tourists I couldn’t help but be thankful for the opportunity to experience the real Cambodia and this was all within our first 24 hours.

My next post will touch on Sunrise at Angkor Wat and Pra Thom, the Tomb Raider temple!