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Battambang

sunny 36 °C
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Day 25 - 11 March 2016

The bats at Battambang

Tom, angkor driver himself, picked us up at our hotel after breakfast and checkout, in a motorcar, none the less. He offered to drive us to Battambang, the next stop on our cambodian adventure and be our tour guide there. For once on this trip, it was nice to travel in a bit of a luxury and comfort and to be escorted around at the same time.
When we arrived in Battambang, about two hours west of Siem Reap, it was near lunchtime when we checked in. We went for a short walk in search of a restaurant and we filled ourselves up on noodles and sandwiches.
At about 430pm, tom collected us and brought us out to see the killing caves which were up a rocky hill and could only be reached by motorbike. Ciara hopped on the back of one bike and I got on the back of another and off we sped to check out these caves. During the Pol Pot mass genocidal killings in cambodia in the 70s, lots of educated people and those who were perceived as a threat to the regime, were used as farm slaves and then pushed down big dark holes into the killing caves. There was a big box of skulls and bones in the cave that were apparently left over from these very sad and tragic times for alot of its citizens.
We continued onto the top of the hill where we could see out right across the countryside and mountains across in the distance. There was also a temple there, Phnom Sampov, where some of the people were kept as prisoners before being killed. When we returned to the base of the mountain, we sat and watched thousands of bats fly out of the bat cave, which is a daily occurrence around sunset as it is cooler for them in the evening. We also climbed up a rather steep ladder to see the giant buddha face and to give us a better angle of the bats flying.
Tom brought us back to our hotel where we got ready for dinner. Not knowing the city that well, we just strolled around until we just stumbled upon an indian restaurant. The food was really good and fresh as is nearly all of the food in South East Asia and we were both fairly content after. And so ended another eventful day in Cambodia.

Day 26 - 12 March 2016

Battambang tour

Tom picked us up at the hotel at 8am and we headed out to see what this bamboo train was all about.
Ciara and I sat on cushions that they had laid out for us on a Bamboo train which was a square plank of bamboos stuck together with a little diesel engine and ran on heavy duty steel bars with small wheels. We travelled for nearly 7 miles between ou dambong and ou sralau and I have to say that it was a pretty awesome and memorable experience.
The train uses an old train track that has not been in use for sometime but apparently maybe opened up again for commercial use in the future.
The funny thing about the bamboo train is that there is only one set of tracks so if it meets a train coming towards it, one of the trains has to be removed from the tracks to allow the other one to pass.
When we arrived at Ou Sralau, we were instantly surrounded by children trying to sell us bracelets which is common place in Cambodia. We hung out at this place for about 10 minutes before hopping back on the train and returning to the starting point, passing by a few other trains that were at the edge of the tracks, making way for us.
We drove onto Prasat Banan which is a famous temple on top of 355 steps and provides a good vantage point with which to see the surrounding countryside. Even in the mid morning sun, this was a feat and we got some sugarcane juice to quench our thirst and cool us down after the climb.
Next stop of the day was to the Banan winery and grape farm. We sampled white and red wines aswell as their ginger and honey juice and a finger of brandy, which were all quite strong tasting and definitely an acquired taste.
And that's all we remember about this day!!

Tom dropped us back to our hotel, we said our goodbyes and grabbed some streetfood (chicken on a stick is so common but it tastes really good) and ice cream.
We availed of the chill out area of the hotel with its own swimming pool until the sun was almost gone.
That evening, we ended up walking all over the city, crossing the river and back again in search of restaurants but, after nearly an hour, we returned to the area that we had eaten the previous night and went to one of the other restaurants there.
And as has become somewhat of an onerous but a very necessary task, we booked our onward accommodation.

Posted by Ronantattan 18:10 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Siem Reap

sunny 43 °C
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Day 22 - 08 March 2016

Siem Reap and Angkor Wat?

Tom, our tuk tuk driver, picked us up from the hotel to kick off day 1 of 3 of our tour of Angkor Wat and the various temples.
The tuk tuks in Siem reap were different to the ones that we took before with the motorbike separate to the passenger trailer which looked like a sleigh.
We drove for about 20 minutes in rush hour traffic until we got to the ticket booth where we stopped to purchase our 3 day tickets for Angkor.

We then carried onto the temples. At 830 in the morning, Angkor was extremely busy with tour buses, traders, tuk tuks and masses of tourists all heading to or leaving Angkor, the main temple and /or visiting the other temples. We started our tour in central Angkor Thom where we walked around the Bayon, Baphuon, Phimeanakas, Sras srei, tep pranam and the Elephant terrace.
These temples that are now lying in ruins were spectacular and amazing with the most intricate carvings of heads of buddhas, snakes and dragons etc etched into the stonework. It is also truly remarkable that with all the footfall of tourists every year, that they are still in a reasonably recognised state to see the original layout and design.

After taking countless pictures and walking through the whole area, we then returned and passed through the South gate which is essentially that, a narrow entrance under an arch between Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. The bridge on one side of it was truly amazing with a whole line of buddha statues, exact copies of each other, with a dragons head on both sides at the end.
Last stop of this part of the tour was the very famous Angkor wat, the biggest single religious monument in the world. First we walked across the bridge that connected the temple to the mainland as it was built on a moat, surrounded by water.
Then we went through the periphery structure that surrounded Angkor Wat. On the far side of this, we finally got to see the 3 magnificently recognisable towers of Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples which were quite similar to the churches at home that we are familiar with.
We walked along the long path leading up to it taking pictures from all sides.
We also climbed up the steps of Bakan where we had amazing views down and around the complex.
After absorbing enough of the old ruins for one day, we got back in our tuk tuk with tom who was patiently waiting for us, and headed back towards the city, exhausted from the walking, climbing and the sheer heat of the day.
We had some lunch in the old market and got some energy into us after the mornings tour.
We decided to head straight back to the hotel then but what should have taken us 15 minutes, took us about an hour as we went down a different road but we took a wrong turn and got a little lost. Finally, we found our way back and were glad to get in out of the heat.
All I wanted was a dip in the pool and I got straight into cool off. We relaxed by the pool until it was time to go for dinner.
We got a tuk tuk to 'pub street' and found a nice restaurant called Red Piano where we tried typical Khmer food; lok lak which is beef cooked in spices and herbs, fried egg and rice.
We wandered around the night market buying one or two small things and headed to Malone's Irish pub to see if there was anything going on there.

Day 23 - 09 March 2016

Angkor Wat and Tomb Raider temples

We were on the road at 745 this overcast, humid morning to get another look at Angkor Wat in the early morning sun.
People were leaving Angkor when we arrived as they were probably there from sunrise as that is a really popular time for taking photos.
We took the long walk to the main Angkor structure and walked all over the sections that we hadn't covered the day before.
We headed back to Tom in the tuk tuk and he had a plan for us to see the temple that was made famous by the filming of Angelina Jolie and the Tomb raider movie. This was called Ta Prohm and I will definitely try and watch this movie when I get home, now that I have visited the film location.
That was the end of the second tour around Angkor and we got dropped off at the hotel for some rest and relaxation. The swimming pool beckoned me again and I did some hotel reviews on Trip advisor in between strokes aswell as trying to finish the book of Suduko puzzles that I started in 2010 and have only being doing on holidays or when travelling.
Around 730pm in the evening, we headed out to the restaurant/bar area of the city, strolling around streets that were called 'the alley', 'the passage' and 'the lane'. We found an incredible Mexican restaurant where the food was superb and more importantly, the beer was cheap. We explored some more of the markets and bought some ornaments and paintings, very tempting as they were.
We decided to call it a night with a 2 dollar tuk tuk ride back to the hotel and another busy day planned for day 3.

Day 24 - 10 March 2016

The Grand Tour

Not as early a start on this day as tom picked us up at 10am at our hotel for day 3 of the Angkor ruins grand tour. There were six temples in total to visit on this tour and 30 minutes later, we were at the first one of them, having got our tickets stamped at the ticket booth, which is compulsory everyday.
Pre Rup was in a very similar physical state as the tomb raider temple or any of the others that we had visited in the previous few days.
Then we went onto and walked all around the ruins of East Mebon, Ta Som, Neak Pean, and Preah Khan, all different in their own unique way.

After a typical cambodian lunch of Amok and a rest in a hammock, we headed onto our last stop of the Grand Tour, Phnom Bakheng for sunset.
En route, we stopped to take some more pictures at elephant terrace and Bayon, which is really something special. We also spotted some monkeys at the side of the road playing and climbing trees and we gave them some fruits which they gladly took from us, proof of which was caught on video.
We climbed up the hill to see the sunset at Phnom Bakheng arriving at around 3pm. We were suprised to see people next to the temple before we got there but throngs more arrived after us as there was a maximum number of people allowed up on the sacred grounds at any one time. We waited for about 3 hours until the sun more or less disappeared as the sky was quite cloudy and overcast so, as it was difficult to see.
Having completed the 3 days of sightseeing around Angkor including the Grand Tour, we were thrilled with ourselves for having stuck it out and seeing it all.
Back to the hotel for a quick change and shower and we were back in a tuk tuk again, this time to the Siem Reap brew pub. The place turned out to be empty which is never a good sign but after sampling their food and their own home brews, we were well impressed. They had a great restaurant, brewing business and brand to back it up but Angkor and Cambodian is still the favourite amongst locals and tourists alike and its alot cheaper aswell.

Posted by Ronantattan 17:57 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Cambodia border crossing

sunny 38 °C
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Day 21 - 07 March 2016

The infamous border crossing

And so today was the big day, the day that we had both been looking forward to, the day that we had both been nervous and excited about, after hearing and reading the horrendous horror scam stories, it was the day of the crossing of the infamous Lao/Cambodian border.
First, we had to get there. We left the island on another canoe type boat and got to Nakasang where we waited for almost an hour for a bus to take us the short trip to the border.
We arrived on the Lao side of the border and it was ghostly quiet. The 11 of us that travelled together to the border made a joint decision to stick together. We also had instructions from AVT or Asia Van Transfer company who were going to be transporting us direct to Siem Reap, what we needed to do at the border crossing. First, the lao departure card and passport was handed to the lao guard along with two dollars each for the stamp.
Once we had all this completed, we walked up a short section of road or no mans land until we were now on the Cambodian side of the border crossing. The guard at the desk directed us to a shack at the side of the building and this was where we gave our passports for our visas and 35 dollars for the privilege. As we were walking up the road, there were a few guys sitting in little tents shouting at us to get a health check for 1 or 2 dollars before entering the country. This is the biggest scam going at this border crossing and is notorious for catching out backpackers.
Once our passports were stamped, visas issued and all associated paperwork completed, we were officially in Cambodia and the best thing ever was the crossing itself. Very straightforward and nothing to be scared about at all.
We met the guy from AVT and we waited for the remaining backpackers going to Siem Reap aswell.
AVT piled us into a mini van and we made our way to Stung Treng, a couple of hours south of the border. The roads for the first half hour or so were very bumpy and rough and there was little or sign of civilisation other than a few shacks here and there.
After a quick stopover at their office, we hopped into another mini van which brought us the remaining journey to Siem Reap, home of the very famous and ancient Angkor Wat.
On arrival, we got picked up by a tuk tuk driver, tom who dropped us to our hotel. We also hired him to take us around the famous sights of Angkor Wat over the following three days.
Our hotel was magic, with only nine rooms for its guests and the reviews that we read online seemed accurate and consistent with what we saw. Also, we got a cold drink and wet towel on arrival, always a good start to any visit. The room was very spacious with a king size bed, ensuite and a bath as extra, big wardrobe, lots of floor space and came with its own private garden. Probably one of the best hotels that I have ever stayed in.
We settled in for our first night in SR and had dinner in the hotel restaurant which we almost had to ourselves.

Posted by Ronantattan 08:33 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Don Khon

sunny 35 °C
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Day 20 - 06 March 2016

Exploring Don Khon

After a decent nights sleep and reasonable breakfast, we got a map of the island and headed off in search of a spot where we could chill out and read our books, relaxing in the shade after a busy few days on the road. We found a nice quiet area called Teak way just next to the water and we hung out there for a while just soaking up the peace and quiet.
There were a few water buffalo walking through the shallow water aswell as a few local kids playing trying to stay cool.
After a while, we decided to go and explore the rest of the island. We spotted a sign for a Waterfall so we headed in that direction.
We followed the path which brought us to a farmyard/restaurant and we followed the next sign for Khone Pa Soi waterfall, (Khone Pa is the name of the next island linked by bridge) crossing over a wooden, flexible bridge, sort of like the ones that you would see in a playground.
The waterfall was very small as it was dry season, meaning that there was less water flowing but still refreshing to look at and dip your feet in, on a hot, dry and humid day. I was very tempted to go for a swim but decided not to as ir was extremely rocky and mostly shallow.
We left the cool waterfall and returned to the original path to carry on around the island. A couple of minutes in, we realised that the sun was its highest and its strongest and we were quickly running out of water. We consulted the map and it showed us a route back to where we were staying, cutting through the middle of the island.

We took this next turn right and followed along a dirt track for what seemed like an eternity in the baking sun of the day. Seeing a restaurant up ahead, we stopped there to buy some water but it was not open so we carried on for nearly another 15 minutes before we arrived back to our guesthouse. We demolished two bottles of water in seconds and then ordered fruit shakes to get some energy back into us. It is frightening how quickly your energy levels depreciate and how quickly you dehydrate when you are exposed to temperatures greater than 35 degrees and humidity nearly 100%.
After cooling down with the room aircon and fan, we headed over to the restaurant that we had already been to for breakfast, and availed of their comfortable cushions where you can lie/sit back and stretch out the legs.
We had some more cool drinks and stayed there in a proper chill out state until it was nearly dark.
We got ourselves organised and went to the restaurant that was nearest to our guesthouse where i ate a whole Grilled Mekong fish, caught fresh in the river that day.
The nightlife on Don khon is almost non existent with most places quietening down after 10 pm which is one of the reasons that visitors prefer this to Don Dhet.

Posted by Ronantattan 08:32 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Champasak

sunny 36 °C
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Day 18 - 04 March 2016

Champasak

We headed to the bus station before breakfast to get our tickets to Pakse as we couldn't go all the way to Champasak. Our plan was to buy the onward tickets at Pakse bus station.
We returned to the bus station about an hour later and found our bus that was due to leave at 9am. Like the previous bus that we took to Savannakhet, this was jam packed full of yogurts, tissue paper, and boxes of who knows what, that were being delivered to the various towns and villages throughout the province and beyond. They had boxes and containers under every seat, at the back of the bus and even under your feet on front of you.
We headed off on the 4 and half hour journey to Pakse and the usual food sellers got on the bus at the station. We made numerous small stops along the way picking up locals and both collecting and delivering goods and boxes to whoever had ordered them. The bus got fuller and fuller with passengers until the entire aisle was jam packed with passengers who were all standing or sitting on arm rests of other passengers. The bus got warmer and warmer and fuller and fuller until at one point, we were stopped for a few minutes and people started to grumble and complain in their own language about the heat, babies started to cry and there was literally not a puff of air left on the bus. Even though we were next to a window, the air was really warm coming in and the aircon was barely working on the bus.
There was nothing that anyone could do except sit/stand there and put up with it.
Just after 3pm, all foreigners on the bus were ushered off the bus to a waiting tuk tuk which was to bring us to Pakse city. We wanted to get to the bus station so we were reluctant to get into the tuk tuk. The driver agreed to drop us at the bus station so we were ok with that. After dropping the other passengers off at their respective hotels, he came back and told us that the next bus was not leaving until 2am which was not what we wanted to hear. Our only option was to hire a mini van which would cost nearly 50 euro or a songthaeiw which would also be an expensive option. We settled on a price with the tuk tuk driver who agreed to drive us the 40km out to Champasak. This journey took almost an hour as these tuk tuks are much slower than a car or van and more suitable for city driving.
It was duskish as we pulled up at the inthira hotel in this tiny village and we checked in.
Our room was across the road in a separate building next to the water which had a log cabin feel about it with wooden stairs, wooden doors and wooden floors.
After a quick change, we went for some dinner at the hotel which tasted really good after all of the travelling we did that day. Planning to do a long cycle the next day, we called it a night.

Day 19 - 05 March 2016

Wat Phou and trip to 4000 islands

Saturday morning, we woke at 645 to have our breakfast and get on our bikes to Wat Phou which is an old temple built on top of a hill overlooking the Champasak countryside. Wat Phou is an Unesco world heritage site which dates back to the 11th century, slightly older than Angkor Wat, the single biggest manmade religious monument in the world.
After a very american breakfast of pancakes and bacon, we rented bikes from the hotel and cycled along the one road for about 10km. Along the way, the chain on my bike packed in and we had to stop at a "garage" for some oil. The guy was very obliging and soon enough, we were on our way again. After a very pleasant hour of cycling, except for the little chain incident, we arrived at Wat Phou. We left our bikes in the bike shelter, and visited the museum first. This showed a map of all of the various temples dotted around the province and had various displays of conservation efforts of the team who have been maintaining and reworking some of the brickwork on Wat Phou and the other related monuments. There were also examples of the engravings of elephants and lions in the stonework and what these meant.
As it was heating up outside, we proceeded onto the hill and the temple. We found two derelict churches at the base of the mountain, where some of the brickwork was being reworked. Each brick had a number and were laid out in order on the ground, waiting to be put back in place.
We climbed up wide steps and narrow steps, tall ones and small ones eventually arriving at the top of the hill to where Wat Phou was. Most of the roof was gone and some of the internal walls had broken down. The view down over the entire complex including the churches, the lakes and the visitor centre was quite impressive.
There was also a small cave at the top that didn't seem to have an entrance and there was fresh water running the mountain which was a welcome relief from the hot sun.
There were a couple of rock formations that apparently looked like snakes, crocodiles and elephants, but the latter was the only one that we saw. We climbed back down the steps, returned to our bikes and headed back the same way that we had come.
Arriving back to the Inthira hotel, weary, thirsty and tired, we ordered some cool drinks and lunch. About an hour later, we decided to leave for Don Khon which is one of 4000 islands in Southern Laos and very popular with tourists. We left the hotel just after 2pm in a tuk tuk which then took us to the ferry which we thought was taking us to Don Khon. However, there were no other backpackers around and no signs with details of what we should do. With as much english as the tuk tuk driver had, he told us to get on one of the boats across the water and then pick up a bus to Don Khon on the other side. If only it were that simple. We got on a handmade barge which consisted of two canoe boats joined together by a plank of wood where we sat. For about €2.50, this elderly man brought us across on his boat. On the beach at the other side, we asked some locals if they knew where we would be able to catch the bus to Don khon and they told us that we had to get to these cross roads a few miles away to catch the bus coming from Pakse. They offered to drive us to this pick up point which we accepted. We got to these cross roads and we stood there waiting for a bus to bring us to the island. It wasn't until we met an american who was trying to do the reverse of what we were planning to do, that we found out that we were still on the mainland and about 80 km to the ferry for Don Khon! At this stage, we were getting a little anxious and concerned as it was well after 3pm in the afternoon and we had no sure way of getting to our final destination. Also, we had accommodation booked and paid for, for two nights and we really wanted to get there.
I asked almost everyone in shops, cafes and stalls at this crossroads, if there was a way of getting someone to drive us to Nakasang which we learnt was where the ferries left from. We flagged down buses, vans and were just about to flag down trucks when a Songthaeiw stopped that was heading to the port. We had to climb over boxes, people and suitcases to get onto the back of this goods delivery truck converted to take passengers.
After two long hours on this van, we eventually got to Nakasang exhausted and worn out trying to get to the damn islands.
Thankfully, we got talking to a local on the van who told us that he was going to Don Dhet, the main touristy island and to follow him. At the port, we were told that no more boats were going to Don Khon for the rest of the night but we remembered from our research that there was a bridge connecting the two islands together. Happy days!
We hopped on the canoe passenger boat and just as night was drawing in, we arrived at Don Dhet. We tried to get the number of our hotel so that the local guy, whose family had a guesthouse on Don Dhet, could ring them and see if they would collect us. Eventually, he got a friend of his to drive us over on his motorbike which had a side car that could carry passengers.
5 hours and six modes of transport later, we finally got to our hotel shattered but thrilled to have made it. Our final stop on our 13 day adventure around Laos and we get to spend it chilling on an island.

Posted by Ronantattan 08:25 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

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