Thursday, September 1, 2011

August 31 - around Phu Quoc island. A string of pearls.

Wednesday. The weather has eased, the sea is calmer, the rain gone and even touches of sunshine. I decided to hire a motorbike and take a tour of the island. Hiring a bike is easy, you walk down the street and people approach you they simply rent you their private bike for the day. The fuel tank is always empty, they must siphon the tanks before leaving home, so as part of the deal you have to fill the tank. Also if you damage the bike you need to get it repaired at your expense. If you are careful and keep the speed down low, which you have to any way due to the poor roads, barring accidents, the risk is low. I struck a deal with a rider basically as I left the hotel for a Yamaha step through, similar to a Vespa, basically a scooter.
Without any clear plan, I headed South following the road that ran parallel to Long Beach where my resort is. This is a strip of typical Tropical sandy beach with the ocean, in this case the Gulf of Thailand, on one side, and palm trees fringing the landward side. It runs for about 20 km. The northern end is built up with resorts, these run south for about 5km, the rest has not been developed yet. I understood why there was no further development, the bitumen road soon ends and turns into a poorly graded dirt road. I was tempted to say track rather than road.
(Continuing some time later. The writing of this posting has been interrupted by the need of a foot massage.)
I passed small fishermen cottages, see photo, and one small bar area, perfect for sunset drinks, a bit of a trek to get there however. I then came upon a sign for a Pearl Farm. Australian managed since 1996, the sign proudly declared. I kept going and then came across a larger establishment proclaiming to be a Pearl Farm. Not interested overly much in Pearls but I decided that since I was there that I should take a look. Wow was this place ever a surprise! Inside the building, which must have been over 100 metres long was a double line of display cases with all manner of glitter. Cases were devoted to pearl necklaces, pearl earrings, pearl rings, combination silver or gold necklaces featuring pearls, pendants and the list goes on. I was adopted by a lady who followed me hawkishly, always ready to tell me the quality and show me the goods up close if I so desired. The prices looked pretty steep some pieces listed as 4,000,000 dong, but when I converted that back to $200 it seemed pretty cheap. I was tempted to purchase for the hell of, it as an investment, but have no particular reason and I don't know the first thing about pearls. So my wallet stayed in my pocket.
Leaving there I soon entered An Thoi. This is primarily a fishing village and i had no idea if there were tourist sites, or if so how to find them, so I contented myself with some pictures of the boats and then moved on.
As i left the town I once again encountered the school girls wearing the traditional Ao Dai. This must be one of the most simple but elegant dresses that I have ever seen. A simple blouse has long panels front and back, these appear to flow in the breeze and as the girls walk or ride their bikes. The Ao Dai is not restricted to school girls it is National Dress for all women. You could spend thousands of dollars for a designer dress and find it hard to look more elegant than wearing one of these knocked up on a home sewing machine with a couple of metres of fabric. Use a search engine for pictures better than I can take.
Leaving An Thoi I was basically heading homeward again. I chose a different road to try and complete a circular path. This led me to Sao Beach. My guide book lists this as a white sandy beach rather undeveloped. No longer, it features at least 2 large resorts which appear to pretty much own the entire beach between them. Being sheltered from the westery winds the sea was calm, the sun was out and it was a tropical paradise. As i arrived I met a group of Buddhist Monks, we talked for a while and after I had wandered around the place I bumped into them again. I stayed and talked with them for a while and they shared some of their food with me. It was simple food mainly fruit, some dry packet crackers and some sesame seed flavoured items that looked like a thicker version of a poppodum. They told me it was all good, I found it rather bland. It was nice of them to do so. I went behind their backs and had a more substantial lunch of fried rice with crab meat after I left them. Plus beer of course.
Despite the obvious attraction I decided not to have a swim and proceeded on. Up ahead I could see storm clouds building up, the weather was closing in again. For safety reasons I had set myself a top speed of 40kmh on the scooter. The temptation was to speed to avoid the rain, but I controlled myself. The temperature dropped and the wind began to pick up. When it looked really dirty I stopped and slipped into a raincoat. Just in time as the rain started soon after. I encountered wind gusts that i estimated up to 40 kmh, they were sufficient to blow me off the bitumen and onto the side of the road on at least 2 occasions. The scooter handles quite different to a motorbike due to the small wheels and centre of gravity, therefore it did not feel safe to do rapid counter actions to prevent running off the road. I chose a gentle braking and controlled exit onto the shoulder in preference. I stayed on the bike and came to no harm on all occasions.
It bucketed down. But I stayed dry in my 25 cent raincoat, despite sheets of water running off me.
The Bludger returned to his accommodation surprisingly dry and being all tuckered out needed a sleep.
Nick Smith
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Tuesday August 30: Ham Ninh, Phu Quoc

Sitting in a restaurant, perched above the ocean i had a fine view of the nearby shoreline, fishing boats and small houses hugging this part of the coast. A jetty, to my right, ran several hundred metres out into the ocean. Here it is shallow and the boats must dock in the deeper waters at the end of the jetty. In the distance, out in the calm waters, I could make out the vague outline of a head. Over the course of lunch it slowly wended its way closer to where I sat, perched in the restaurant. The head finally resolved into that of an old woman, crouched in the water, she seemed to be moving by dragging her bottom along the sea bed. She towed an old water container, with one side removed, acting as a form of floating storage.
When she reached the shoreline, she smiled up at the camera giving me a big victory sign with her fingers as I took the photo. She smiled a toothless smile.
My guide explained that she was searching the ocean floor for oysters and pipis and other shellfish. He added that her wits were addled and that she would barely speak to anyone. She was grinning all the time. A manic grin? Or her front to the world that all is well? I could not tell. A person in the restaurant approached her and purchased some pippis. I learnt that they paid 20,000 duong a kilo. The bag was weighed by hand and generous in size. The restaurant was selling identical fare for 80,000 and then adding charges to cook and prepare. It is a hard life that this lady lives.
I was sitting in a restaurant in Ham Ninh. This was the tiny port and village where the boat that first brought me across had docked. On my first time there it was raining and I was rushed to find my transport so I had no time to appreciate the view or explore. And now that I was there I could see that there wasn't much to see and explore. One road in and out and walking and cycle paths only after that. It is a pretty location, with houses perched on the ocean edge and the fishing boats moored in the shallow protected harbour. Picture card views with little reason, except two restaurants at the start of the jetty, to stay longer than it takes to take those pictures.
This was the first day of good weather that i had encountered, and I had set out on the back of a scooter with one of the staff acting as guide. He described himself as an assistant to the owner and could get the time off and would only charge for fuel for the scooter. This is generally the start of a con that ends up with me forking out money for extras, but at the end of the day he was as good as his word, I paid for his lunch and filled his fuel tank. I will donate some money to him before I leave.
Our first port of call was a Pagoda perched high on a hill, the scooter chugged its way up and I wondered if I would need to jump off and push, but we made it. The Pagoda featured a Buddha with small people crawling over him. One was squeezing the nipple of Buddha. We wanderd the various levels and my guide seemed to know some of these people. It turned out that he did and came to this Pagoda regularly to pray. Son, my guide, informed me that i had been invited to share lunch with the monks. I had only recently had breakfast and could not have eaten at that time, so with some regret I turned the offer down. It would have been fascinating and an experience to eat with the monks. The incredible thing here was that I was not hassled for a donation neither in the temple nor by the souvenir sellers. In fact I would have been happy to donate to the temple but I found no obvious opportunity.
Our next stop was a waterfall that had a small theme park at the entrance. A rough hewn path led along the edges of the river, more a stream in reality, with nice views of rapids and a couple of small waterfalls. It took about 15 mins to walk the length of the pathway. At one point we passed a wedding party getting their photos taken, it is a place popular with the locals. The day was hot by this stage and it was tempting to throw off clothes and caution and cool down in the waters. A pleasant experience, if you head this way pay it a visit.
At the entrance to the waterfall car park area was a small themed garden. Large concrete figures, surrounded a small man made lake. It had a Tolkeinesque feel to it, at least the Tolkein as depicted in the movies. It turned out not to be Tolkein but themed on Monkey Magic that campy, poorly dubbed TV show from Hong Kong, I identified figures of Monkey, Piggsy and a person seated on a horse that i remembered from the show.
From there we went to Ham Ninh and lunch, and then returned to Duong Don't via a Pepper Farm and a Fish Sauce factory.
There is not really much to see in a pepper farm. The pepper trees/bushes are staked to upright posts and grow about 3 metres high. The pepper corns were not yet ripe and there fore there was no processing going on. Black pepper is the dried raw pepper corn, white pepper is further processed with the outer covering removed.
A small retail outlet sold the dried pepper, I bought half a kilo for $5 and a mixture of pepper, salt and garlic that tasted devine and i am already dreaming of how that will taste when sprinkled onto a nicely cooked steak. I spent some time dipping sections of a fruit into various concotions made of pepper and other ingredients. All good. I don't know the fruit it was small and had a texture and taste reminiscent of quince just before it was truly ripe.
The Fish Sauce factory had no guide so I wandered past vats of Fish Sauce, some being decanted into large tubs. I watched the finished product being siphoned into the bottles that were then capped and hand labelled and boxed. Low tech.
That finished my day in Ham Ninh.
The Bludger is dreaming of mouth watering steaks with Pepper and Garlic Salt.
Nick Smith
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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Monday August 29: Phu Quoc, vietnam

I had to change hotels today. I had originally booked a couple of nights at the Sea Star Resort. I had a seaview cabin. It was well appointed with a fridge, minibar, aircon, comfortable king size bed and TV. I also had a nice comfy lounge chair with a balcony overlooking the garden and ocean. All in all i was quite happy there although the service in the restaurant was poor. There was a note in the hotel information asking guests to be patient with restaurant staff as they were being trained. The note looked old and I suspect it will still be there in the future. There was no evidence that the staff were being trained or had learnt from any training.
My new hotel is the Mai Spa Resort. It is only 100metres further along the beach than my old one, but by road it is a 10 minute walk. I have seen no other guests, although cabins are being cleaned so maybe someone else is around. The cabin is also well appointed, but has no TV not that I am missing that. Most of the resort is under construction with a new pool planned, several cabins under construction and new paths being laid. At the moment I am using a series of stepping stones to reach my cabin and the restaurant.
I am happy with the accommodation, paying $40 per night, in high season this room would command over $100.
The weather stayed wet again all day, although it did ease up late morning. This gave me an opportunity for a small walk along the main street towards town and find a place to eat for lunch. I could now see that my location is not far from the outskirts and it would be an easy walk weather permitting.
For lunch there were several options despite many restaurants being closed and boarded up. Closed for the low season or just until the evening? I am not sure. I investigated a tapas place, but found nothing on the menu that appealed to me, so I moved on. I settled on a place, called Red River, that despite having only one couple inside looked clean, prosperous and had a good variety of menu choices. The couple turned out to be Canadians living in Houston and were very friendly. We soon got chatting and shared lunch, beers and a few stories for a couple of hours.
I returned to my room and wiled away the rest of the afternoon.
For dinner I decided to venture out to the night market. I chose a gap in the rain and hired a ride on a motorbike into the market. The market follows a street maybe 200metres long. A lot of stalls seemed to be shut. One end of the market is almost entirely devoted to bling, it consists of jewellers selling bright shiny things and decorated shells plus bracelets etc. Also to be found are traditional Vietnames hats, tshirts and the like. The opposite end of the market is primarily food. I settled on a place that advertised itself as a BBQ and had a variety of fish and shellfish on display. I selected a large skewer of chicken chunks interspersed with vegetables. This came with a bowl of rice for 50,000 dong, about $2.50. The place was called "Cat Food".
I had just sat down when the Canadian couple walked past. John and Pam joined me for dinner and we shared a few more beers and stories. The weather had closed in again and it rained quite heavily, fortunately we were seated well under cover so remained dry.
The lady who appeared to be the head waitress, or possibly the tout to attract customers, adopted me (us?) during the course of the meal. I had actually noticed her earlier, hard to avoid noticing someone in a fluorescent yellow top. She was limping and during the evening as we "chatted" I had a closer look. From the swelling it looked like she may have broken her big toe or at least suffered a crush injury in the region where it joins the main foot. I ended up holding a block of ice on her injury for some time.
Phuc was her name and she spent most of the evening sitting next to me, returning after serving customers. I am not exactly sure what was going on. I know the protocols and expectations when a waitress adopts me in a seedy bar. But I am not sure what happens in a reputable restaurant. The other factor was that she barely spoke English, and I don't know any Vietnamese, so the "chatting" was mainly pigeon English and sign language. If she had less than honourable intentions, she was unable to get the message across to me or I am too stupid to read the messages - a distinct possibility.
As I write this on the Tuesday the weather has improved, there is still a strong breeze, but the waves are slightly smaller than yesterday, the sky is lighter, although still overcast and the sun managed to break through for a few minutes.
It is time for The Bludger to go exploring.
Nick Smith
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Monday, August 29, 2011

Sunday 27/8/11: Duong Dong, Phu Quoc

The rain continued throughout the night, with no evidence of it easing. My previous post describes a trip into the town and watching a boat washed up onto the beach.
What has struck me about the place is how few tourists there are. There are plenty of resorts and guest houses and a number of restaurants catering for their needs, but the cafes and restaurants are empty. Often I am the only customer, often I walk by and see only the staff sitting, waiting, hopefully that somebody may drop in. Probably the rain is keeping many tourists inside and they are not venturing beyond their resorts, indeed I was driven in side in the mid afternoon by heavy rain and ended up watching a movie on TV.
While in town I visited Bobby's Ice Cream for a coffee. Not a bad coffee. Only 3 others were in there, all taking advantage of free wifi. At the Swiss Viet coffee where I had a very good hamburger there was only myself until the end of the meal when someone else dropped in. At the Dog Bar where I dropped in to check it out there was one other, although he was joined in time by 3 more. By their talk and actions I reasoned that they were either Expats or possibly sex tourists on a longer term stay, whatever their visas would allow. I ate my evening meal at Chez Carole a restaurant not far from the Dog Bar. Only a dozen customers, the place looked deserted with this few. I had a nice meal of BBQ Prawns on skewers there and listened to a duo on a guitar and banjo crucifying some jazz standards.
During the course of the day I saw two motor accidents both, oddly enough, at the same intersection. The first involved a bike and scooter both travelling side by side in the same direction. I didn't see what caused them to come together but the cyclist ended up on the ground. A low speed crash and no obvious damage done. Later a pillion passenger fell off a scooter and ended up soaked as he landed in a large puddle. I think that he was not holding on and simply slipped off when the scooter unexpectedly leant in one direction. Once again no damage and both rider and pillion burst into laughter.
The Bludger is weathering a storm, boredom is not far away.
Nick Smith
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Sunday, August 28, 2011

The sea is a harsh mistress

Not my words, many others have said them before. This morning I witnessed a shipwreck.
I took a trip into the local town Duong Dong, to explore, find a bottle of Gin, find some new accommodation and planned to have lunch. Also high on the priority list was a cheap plastic raincoat. I might have mentioned that it is wet.
The town is built around a river which exits into the ocean, actually it is the Gulf of Thailand here. Fishing boats line every inch of the river bank. The town itself is quite small, and being Sunday many businesses were shut. So I wandered the town and took pictures of boats and a small temple perched high on a rocky outcrop, overlooking the river entrance. As I wandered I noticed some men on a wall looking out to see. I thought that they may be waiting for a boat to return. When I reached them I could see that they were looking at a boat not far off the shoreline and within the breakers. It was a reasonable sized boat, maybe 150 metres long possibly longer. It was immediately obvious that the boat was in trouble, as no skipper would deliberately sail such a boat that close to shore.
The boat must have lost most of it's power as it exited the river and entered the ocean. The boat was still pointed seaward to present it's bows to the waves. It thus still had steerage and some forward propulsion. The helmsman did a magnificent job keeping the bows pointed into the waves but it was a losing battle as the boat was slowly drifting backwards towards the beach. This continued for some minutes until there was a sudden roar from the engine. I suspect the propellor had struck the sand and sheared off or the engine had been kicked out of gear maybe to prevent damage to the propellor. But it was the final straw as the next wave swung the bows to starboard and the following waves completed the effort of turning the boat broadside and then pounding it into the beach.
Fortunately the hull was flat and the waters shallow the boat remained upright and the crew could be seen still walking the decks although the waves were now breaking over the side and sending up huge sheets of water. Not a total disaster, if the weather eases up this boat should be able to be refloated.
The Bludger is reclining on his balcony, keeping dry on the outside but wet on the inside.
Nick Smith
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August 28: Sea Star Resort - Chau Doc Island - wet wet wet

Oops, I think that I made a boo boo.
With my holiday coming to an end I had decided to spend a few days on a beach with palm trees, soft sand and the comforts of a nearby beach villa. I have the location, I have just got the timing wrong.
I arrived late yesterday, Saturday, in light rain. During the evening the rain increased, to the extent that I postponed an evening walk to explore.
Over night it rained heavily, a true storm, water even found it's way across the balcony and under my door into the room, fortunately stopping at a doormat.
The beach and resort grounds are soaked this morning. The waves are pounding on the beach, there is a continuous roar of the surf, it sounds lovely. The rain alternates between moderate and heavy. Lower lying parts of the resort are under water. Water runs in streams along the pathways making them slippery. The maintenance staff are busy digging trenches to direct the water away.
The sky is non existent, only low grey clouds can be seen.
It is wet. Soaking.
The Bludger must work out whether to stay or move on to somewhere drier or at least more options above and beyond reading in his room. However it is pretty cool here, I am dry, the sound of the rain and the surf. It is still warm.
Nick Smith
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August 26: Chau Doc - evening

Following from the earlier post I made my way back to the floating hotel and had a couple of beers in the bar. Part of the complex had a restaurant and I could also eat where I was. I was comfortable, had a good view and by my third beer decided that eating where I was was a nice lazy option. I asked for the food menu and decided on what I wanted to eat. I waited for the waitress to come back and take my order. I waited, I could see her sitting doing nothing as I was the only customer at this stage. I waited. I finished my beer. I got up and paid my bill and walked out.
I was a little peeved at the lack of service. Probably I don't understand the Vietnam service ethics, definately I had been spoilt by the very attentive service in Cambodia, where the waitress would hover until you ordered. But I was peeved and decided to talk with my feet. The waitress gave me a bored look as I left. My message was obviously wasted.
That actually meant that I needed to hit the streets again to find food as I didn't want to give my business to the restaurant as it was part of the same complex. I decided on a cheap bowl of noodles from a local restaurant or even a street vendor. My path led me past the "Victoria Hotel" my guide book describes this as "seriously stylish" and possessing the best restaurant in town. It certainly looked grand and dressed in shorts and shirt I considered myself under dressed to be there. But after a small internal debate over, dress standards, food quality, cost, environment I decided to check the menu. It was expensive by local standards but not western standards.
I entered the bar area, a large open space with solid varnished wooden bar stools, tables and chairs plus a health amount of comfy chairs and couches for relaxing. The restaurant was behind a door to my right and as I approached the door opened for me. I was greeted by a Maitre,d in a impressive white jacket with brocade on the chest and sleeves. 'Table for 1 please"
At first sight the restaurant was opulent. Hand carved wooden tables and chairs, lots of dark wood panelling, views over the river, pot plants, mood lighting an an atmosphere of calm and quiet. Done in an old Colonial fashion, where money had been no object, this reminded me of the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, as the movies depict it not the present.
I was served by a tall slim waitress. Not a classic beauty, but her uniform which consisted of a white flowing tunic over white ankle length pull up pants and I presume a blouse of some description gave her a look of elegance and refinement. She smiled, understood my order and by the end of the dinner I had realised that she watched me like a hawk and was always present when my plate needed taking away or my glass filled. If not present a simple glance in her direction would have her over in a flash. That is what I call service
I could see about 7 waitresses all dressed the same, all looking slim, tall and glamorous, and I was the only customer. Maybe this is what heaven is all about, maybe I should repent my wicked evil ways. The restaurant could have seated about 60 diners plus more on a balcony.
I ordered a glass of White wine, South African, pleasant, but nothing to write home about. (Except I just have!). I then turned my attention to the Menu, it was written in Vietnames, French and English with an adequate dish name describing the item. I ordered "traditional steamed Vietnamese rice paper rolls" and "squid prepared in Kampot Pepper and chilli sauce".
Before my meal I was brought an "amusee bouche" this consisted of a pork parcel on a slice of cucumber. It was delicious. It had a drizzle of sweet chilli sauce around the plate. Without thinking I smeared the cucumber with chilli and burnt my mouth. Damn that was hot!
Next came the steamed rice paper roll. In Australia I have seen deep fried and fresh, never steamed, so this was a novelty. I was presented with a plate consisting of 3 rolls with a small amount of salading and a slice of yellow stuff between the rolls. I think it may be bean curd, as I have seen similar presented on or with Sushi. There was a spicy dipping sauce also.
The rolls were lovely, freshly prepared, with just the right amount of stickiness in the rice paper so that the roll stayed together when bitten, but didn't stick to plates or fingers. That feeling of being in heaven was still upon me.
About this time I noticed that the tunics worn by the waitresses were a lovely citrus lemon in colour. I could have sworn that they were white when I walked in. I doubted my initial observations but then reasoned that they were white and that they had now changed their tunics. I asked later to confirm this and they had indeed changed. For me that level of attention to detail is rare, a novelty. Maybe I should eat 5* more often.
By the time the Squid main meal arrived I was not really hungry. The entrée was a generous size and would have been sufficient. I managed to force it down however, the sacrifices that I make for others. The squid was properly prepared and tender. The pepper sauce was delicate and looked more like a thin gravy around the food. The chilli sauce was served seperately. The pepper sauce was my dissapointment. A food critic may have said that the sauce was delicate so as not to overpower the squid, I was expecting something a bit more peppery and needed to use the chilli to bring out the flavours, even then a good dose of pepper would have improved it in my view. That is a slight criticism of an overall excellent dining experience, I cannot fault the preperation, presentation or service. It was overall a surreal dining experience.
If ever you go to Chau Doc do yourself a favour and have at least one meal at the Victoria Hotel.
The bludger is not sure if heaven can improve on this.
Nick Smith
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August 26 - Vietnam: Chau Doc

Friday (26/8/2011) I began my journey from Phnom Penh to Pho Quoc island in Vietnam. A 2 day 1 night journey that I booked through Delta Adventures.
I was picked up from my hotel and I and a number of other passengers were deposited at a dock on Sisowath Quay. In total 9 of us boarded a low slung river boat with capacity of about 50. We had plenty of room. Our passports were gathered, which concerned me a bit, but as we had a border crossing ahead of us it was a reasonable thing to do. The boat left the Quayside and after a quick return for some left luggage we were off. We soon entered the Mekong river. Phnom Penh is built at the convergence of the Tonle Sap and Mekong and I think the Bassac.
I was sailing down the Mekong! A river of myth and legend and explorers and impending environmental disasters. The mighty Mekong!
The current flows quite fast and soon the skyline of Phnom Penh was shrinking behind us and then dissapearing into the rain that came down. We cruised at a fair pace to the border, a trip of about 4 hours. On the way we passed small villages, flooded land, fishermen and large clumps of floating vegetation carried along in the current. At times you could see the river boiling as it encountered objects underneath. This would not be a safe river to swim in.
Our passports were returned and we stopped at the Cambodian border post for exit procedures. At this stage we had a change of boat as our boat would return to PP with passengers travelling up river from Vietnam. A short trip and then we disembarked again to have our Visas checked and passports stamped to enter Vietnam. On this side of the river, large dredging operations were going on and shortly the buildings on the bank became more city looking and we entered a channel leading away from the Mekong.
This channel was relatively narrow and afforded lots of photo opportunities of the houses on the banks and passing boats. After an hour and a half along here we came to Chau Doc itself.
My home for the night was the Mekong floating Hotel run by Delta Adventures. I was talked into paying an extra $5 for airconditioning, I had already paid an extra single supplement. As it was pretty empty I would have had the room to myself anyway. Suffice to say that this is budget accommodation, while clean the heads (the nautical term for toilet) still smelt and the cabin was small. My room had a fan, aircon and a mosquito net covering the bed. I also had a little private balcony with views of the river and nearby ferry. I took some lovely sunrise photos from here the next morning.
It was now about 3:30pm so I ventured out for a walk around the town. At one point I was talked into an hour long boat ride around the far bank of the river. This is a local "Cham" community. The people are Muslims and live on floating houses on the river banks. They breed fish for a living in pens that are built under their houses. Anyway for the $5 that it was going to cost me I took the offer up.
I was sculled across the river in a small open boat, barely more than a floating platform, whereupon an old man came aboard and took over the sculling duties. He spoke no english. I was taken through the "back waters" of the villages and could look into the houses and see people leading their daily lives. Young children would shout hello and wave. I waved back. We came to one of the fish farms and I boarded. The guide showed me an open pen in the house and then fed the fish from a sack of fish meal. This caused a feeding frenzy with lots of splashing, at one stage even the guide stood back to avoid being splashed. I could not work out how the fish are restrained as the houses truly are afloat and a marker that I saw indicated large rises and falls in river level.
Becoming bored with that we moved on and I was taken through more houses. I saw racks of filleted fish drying in the sun. I also saw the remaining bones being ground up and fed into what looked like boilers. Finally it dawned on me that they were making fish sauce with the remains.
We came ashore and visited a temple. As I have no knowledge of the Muslim religion it made no sense to me. On the way back to the boat I had to run a gauntlet of souvenir shops where I bought 2 more scarves, made from a combination of silk and cotton. I was assured that these were made in the village and I was shown the weaving loom to prove it. I have my doubts and I also now have a collection of scarves that i won't wear and are pretty useless to me. Add those to the sarongs at home.
Not content with that I continued my walk and strolled through the local street markets. It was typical of what I had seen to date and had the usual fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, fish and household goods. I bought some peanuts, not out of need but a desire to at least have some interaction with locals.
Chau Doc does not get much of a mention in the travel guides, but it did look like it was a thriving city with somethings to offer for a day or two for a tourist. One thing that I noticed here is that the kids are really anxious to say hello to a white stranger. Generally they did that from the safety of their parents arms, but I got lots of hellos, a few handshakes and some high fives. I could tell by the looks that I received that a person of European decent is still a novelty here.
I made my way back to the hotel with a cooling beer and dinner in mind.
Nick Smith
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Monday, August 22, 2011

Images of Cambodia - people watching

Cambodia is, in some ways, an odd country. By the end of the Pol Pot reign, the population had been decimated. The figure that is generally given is that the population was about 4.5 million in 1979. Current population is variously given between 14 & 17 million. That is massive growth and means that 3/4 of the population is under 30 years old.
When you look around it is not immediately obvious, but when you really look it becomes more apparent. There are old people. However there seems to be a lack of middle age people. There are lots of young people. You see families with young children, the parents all look to be barely older than children themselves. Staff at hotels restarants, cafe's etcetera are almost all in their 20's.
For the males out there, the girls are very attractive, but oh so young. I am not qualified to comment on the looks of the men.
It is my habit to awaken early and go for a walk before the heat of the day kicks in. The Cambodians, at least the ones in the cities, also seem to rise early and take some form of exercise. In the green spaces in the cities, often along the river banks, people congregate to exercise and socialise. This morning I walked around the Independence monument and then down to Sisowath quay along the banks of the Tonle Sap River. There are many people out walking, some jogging, they swing their arms or perform upper body stretches as they walk. I see groups of elderly people taking sedate walks, or sitting chatting. A teenage girl walks beside an older lady, their pace is slow, but progress is made. A child walks beside her mother dressed in a pink fairy costume. Males pass me dressed in shorts and their football team colours. Someone called Rhinaldho is popular here. The name is lost on me. Small groups gather to perform calisthenics to music, their ages vary.
Groups of males stand in a circle and play a variant of hacky sac. Not with a bag of beans but some plastic device that seems to have feathers like a shuttlecock and some spring arrangement in the body that produces some bounce when kicked. People work in pairs with badminton rackets and shuttlecocks.
As I walk I pass ladies selling peanuts in the shell. They use an old tin can as a measure, giving a generous serve from a large woven basket. I have tried these in the markets where they cost 2000 Riel, about 50 cents. The peanuts are soft having been boiled.
At the far end of the square vendors sell bananas, nuts, fruits similar to Lychee and others that I cannot recognise.
I continue on. It is now about 6:30am and the sun is up, the day warming, sweat forming on the body. I have made it to Sisowath Quay. The sunlight reflects of the water. Small fishing boats toward the centre of the river are highlighted in silhouette. As I progress the suns rays pass through the scaffolding of a new building. In the future this will be a large blight on the skyline, but for now it is merely a skeletal structure eerily beautiful in silhoutte in the sun rays.
Along the river here there are more people. Large groups gather and perform aerobics in time to loud music. The songs are not familiar, but the beat is clear and the same exercises could be seen in many gyms in the world. Male, female, young and old alike make up these classes. I see 2 boys playing badminton under the watchful gaze of a golden winged serpent. They seem oblivious to its protective gaze. There is a group of ladies, dressed in white. They carry ceremonial swords each with a red tassle on a cord and practice slow movements to a music background. I watch briefly a Karate class practicing their moves.
By 7am the heat has increased and the groups are now breaking up. Exercise is over.
I walk back via a local market. I stick to the outside and watch the food being prepared. Meat is proferred for sale, and I watch fascinated as a piece of lean beef is sliced into one continuous wafer thin piece. Later this will become Lok Lak a local speciality. Chicken, Quail and sparrow sized birds are already plucked and waiting to be sold. One lady is dismembering a chicken, the entrails and visceria are removed, the bird dissected and the next one commenced with no fuss or drama, this is her job. Frogs are also on offer, these are already skinned, some are still moving. I am not sure if this is muscular twitching or if the skinning process is so delicate that the animal is still alive. There are also fish and eel and shellfish including crab, oyster, pipis and scallops. Mostly these are stored on ice, safe to buy and eat.
Fruit and veg are plentiful. Melons, cucumber, mint, lettuce, Morning Glory, Apples, Pears, Limes, Citrus, Pomello and many that I do not recognise. A lady sits in a large wicker basket full of oranges or similar. She removes the stalk, polishes the skin and then hands the fruit to her assistant who adds it to a growing pyramid. Presentation of all food is meticulous, Coles and Woolworth's take note.
In another part of the market a lady is preparing Lotus flowers. She folds back the green outer leaf folds it in a quick practiced movement and tucks it back into place. Then to the next leaf and shortly the whole flower is open for display.
As I walk a lady passes me, I step aside to let her pass. She looks at me and smiles, she holds her gaze and I smile back. Something passes between us, I am not sure what, possibly an acknowledgement of politeness crossing cultural boundaries and those of language. Possibly she is merely curious that a foreigner is in the market. She is soon gone, lost among the crowds.
As a generalisation the Cambodians are short. The women barely come up to my shoulder, many men are not much taller. They are slim. It is rare to see an overweight person, especially in the country. I suspect that this is due to calorie restricted diets and as in many Asian countries their size will increase with improvements in health and taking up western diets.
The Bludger was served dinner by three Cambodian ladies, none of whom came up to his armpit.

Nick Smith
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Kabiki hotel pool and bar.

The sacrifices that I am making!
Nick Smith
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Images of Cambodia

I walk down a flight of steps, a man is seated his legs (if he has any) are hidden from view. He leans forward, geneflucting, cap in hand, begging for money. I pass him by. Later when he thinks that he is unobserved I see this man stand up, walk to a nearby shady spot and climb into a hammock.
A woman attaches herself to me at a Temple. She becomes my unofficial guide. During the course of the guiding, despite my protests, she constantly fans me to ward off mosquitos. She mentions the history of the Temple, but her spiel of then degenerates into a monologue of her dire financial situation, she lost most of her family during the Pol Pot era, and struggles to find money to school her children. She tells me that she is 37. Underneath the time worn exterior she is attractive and holds herself with grace and dignity. I could imagine this woman being a gracious hostess at a dinner party if fate had been less harsh. I give her some money for her guiding services, I wonder if I have given enough.
As we eat in restaurants children come by selling guide books and postcards. I do not buy from these children. I wonder how dire their needs are. The drink in front of me costs more than the book they are selling. Have I got this wrong? Should I forgo a drink and give them money?
A woman with a baby in her arms approaches asking for money to feed her child. One of our group suggests that she will not donate money, but will buy food for the child. The begger quickly leads her to a nearby supermarket and points out the baby formula that she needs. The deal is done. We wonder if this is a scam or once more a person in need whose prime concern is the well being of her child. We will never know.
In a market, a man is getting around on his knees. He has only stumps where his feet once were. I see a stallholder give him some money. To me this is a sign that he is in genuine need, my companions and I gather some money and I give it to the man. He places his plans together in front of him and blesses or thanks me.
I negotiate with a tuk tuk driver to visit some temples. He fills up with petrol and visits a place that I have not requested. He is a friendly amiable chap, he tells me about his family. During one stop he asks me about my hat, it is a Panama, he suggests that it is expensive and I agree, he tries to pin me down to an amount. He establishes that I paid over $100 for it. He then launches into a spiel about how he needs books for his children's schooling. He has trapped me, the inference is clear, if I can afford such a hat I can afford to donate money to his children's schooling. We return to my Hotel whereupon he demands extra money for the petrol and extra visits. He has broken what I consider to be a contract, I get angry with him, I give him some extra money and tell him to dissapear and not see me again. I should not have lost my cool, we both lose as I will not engage him for further driving duties.
Monks in Orange robes patrol the streets, they stand in front of shops until the proprieter makes a donation. Some wait at roundabouts and rise expectantly as the vehicles approach, their bowls clearly evident.
Small shrines abound in the temples, each one has a donation box and often a person who will press an incense stick into your hand, make some gestures and expect a donation. One reveals a handful of $10 notes in a bowl, a clear suggestion of what an appropriate donation should be.
There is a constant drain of money from my wallet as donations are made. I am left in constant doubt whether my money is going to the right people or places. One person cannot donate to every person, charity or needy cause. My conscience is never quite at ease, have I given too much? not enough? to the wrong person? I will never know the answers to these questions.
The Bludger is troubled.
Nick Smith
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Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Angkor Wat Temple

It is now my second time in Siem Reap to explore the Angkor Wat temple complex. On my last visit, I did not visit Angkor Wat itself, as I concentrated efforts on the other Temples.
I and my companions were up before the dawn to catch the Temple at sunrise. It was not a spectacular sunrise and as far as visual spectacles go, we did not see it at its best. The sun rose behind clouds and there was no stunning array of colours as dawn broke. Still I concentrated on trying to take some more creative photos of the silhouettes of the outer temple and surrounds and the reflections in the moat. Writing this with the benefit of hindsight, I should also have entered the temple proper to try to obtain the famous shot of the silhouette of the 5 towers.
Despite the early start there were already hundreds, if not into the thousands, of people streaming in and out of the Temple entrances. I was both surprised at the quantity and dissapointed at the inability to take photos without a large number of strangers in my pictures.
Anyway that was only a taste as the intent was to return to our hotel, have breakfast, and then return for a longer visit. I guess with hindsight we should have just stayed there and eaten at a local cafe or restaurant.
On our return to the temples out group split into smaller groups and after stopping to take some photos and then taking a different turn I found myself on my own. This didn't worry me and I slowly wandered around the complex absorbing the beauty and history and following no particular path. Having entered from the West gate, at one stage I found my self at the Eastern gate, with a view back to the temple along a tree lined path. Monkeys frequented the path and as the crowds were considerably less it was a very peaceful place.
I made my way back to the Temple proper and slowly worked my way up to the upper levels. The top most level is called the Bakan and has commanding views across the treetops to other temples and the surrounding countryside. Well worth the very steep climb. Entry to this level is restricted somewhat by the need to wear respectful clothing. I was secretly pleased to see some males refused entrance as they were wearing tank tops. Rather than accepting the ruling they became rather loud, pushy and arrogant. They never made it up. The requirement to have shoulders covered is posted in all the guide books.
Tee hee.
Not sure really how to describe the Temple. It is surrounded almost entirely by a most. The most alone is massive. Within the most is the outer wall, not designed for protection like an English Castle and moat. There is then open ground and within that the temple itself. The sheltered parts of the interior are covered in has reliefs, the passageways with these reliefs are huge. There is much of the temple shrouded in tarpaulins where restoration and conservation works are being carried out. The rest that can be seen is an intriguing mix of well preserved carvings, with crumbling walls and ceilings. The towers are wethered and corroded due to long exposure to nature, this probably adds to the charm as the outlines of the faded glory is still easily seen.
As on my first visit, after several hours, my mind was numbed and overawed, I could not take more in, so I retired for the day.
The Bludger may be having a cold beer at the moment.

Nick Smith
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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Can it get better than this?

Yesterday a day of tropical rain.
Today dawned bright and clear with the promise of sunshine to come. It has lived up to the promise with the morning lazing on sun beds along the beach. Hot sun, tempered by a slight cooling breeze. We have lazed on sunbeds beneath a thatched roofed shelter with the occasional dip in the ocean to cool off and the odd cool drink to keep us lubricated.
My plans now an hours massage, beer and slowly wind up to dinner in the evening.
Happy Birthday to me.
Nick Smith
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Friday, August 12, 2011

Bus to Phnom Penh

Well there is not a lot to say about a bus trip.
I was on the $5USD express service to Phnom Penh booked from my Hotel and fortunately the bus station was directly across the road. Fortunate because I may have been running late due to the late arrival of breakfast and the fact that the waiter kept forgetting things, such as hot water for tea, fruit, the jams for the table, butter and milk. I was considering a sarcastic suggestion that I should return in an hour after he got the table set but knew that would have been lost on him.
The bus took off on time and wended it's way through Battambang to a secondary bus station where more people were picked up. We then proceeded to enter the countryside with more stops along the way. I guess that my concept of express really means non stop or maybe limited stops. For a period of time we seemed to play a game with 2 huge trucks laden with sacks of rice. We would tailgate them, struggle to overtake, then stop for a pickup and let them get in front again. I got to know those trucks quite well.
I have travelled on similar busses in many places and these were a pleasant surprise, no loud blaring music, which seems to be characteristic of many other bus rides. In fact the we were entertained at first by a series of video clips of, I assume Cambodian, performers. The clips all told a story, which were variations of boy meets girly, boy splits up with girl and one that followed the fall of grace of one girly into poverty and prostitution when in her darkest hour a prince charming type rescued her and they lived happily ever after. All of this was accompanied with both male and females giving overly dramatic love lorn looks at each other. Later we had some slap stick comedy shows that had the children and adults in fits of laughter followed by a movie that seemed to be about a fat kid who was incredibly strong having a series of slapstick adventures.
I read a book instead.
We travelled through basically an agricultural countryside. Lots of rice paddies, some other fields of green stuff. It was pretty countryside and even had hills as we approached Phnom Penh. It was also much drier around PP.
What I understood to be a 5 hour trip actually took over 7.5 hours. My procedure on such trips is to minimise food and water consumption, to minimise the need to use toilet facilities. There is nothing worse than getting caught short with no idea when the next stop may happen and what the facilities will be like when you do stop. I have a veryy painful memory of a bus ride from hell in Belgium once when my companion and I had a belly full of beer.After thirty minutes we were in need of a toilet, when we did stop over 2 hours later I was in dire straights and could only hobble to the toilet, which was a good 200 metres from the bus.
In fact on this trip we had 2 stops on the way. The first had pretty clean squat style toilets. I am quite comfortable using these. At the second I went native and joined the locals polluting the nearby stream that is probably used for drinking and washing and cooking and whatever. At this second stop the bus was also washed.

Arrival into Phnom Penh was straight forward, I collected my bags and negotiated a price with a tuk tuk driver to take me to my hotel. He assured me that he knew where it was so consequently we spent an extra 20 minutes trying to find it.
I am staying at the very ritzy La Pavilion, very nice.
The Bludger is cooling off with a swim and a Martini being stirred behind me.
Nick Smith
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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Siem Reap to Battambang, Cambodia, 9 August 2011

Today the plan was to travel by boat to Battambang. This involved navigating the flooded waterways at the edge of lake Tonle Sap, crossing the Northern most tip of the lake and then wending our way through a river system to Battambang proper.
I was up early, packed and had a hurried breakfast. My boat ticket included a pickup by a shuttle bus. It was late. After it became a half hour late, I began to get concerned. At this stage one of the hotel staff came over and let me know that the operator had rung up, I was not forgotten, but it would be a bit longer. I do not wait patiently, conscious of things that I could be doing, but at least on this occasion I was confident that I would not be left behind.
The minivan eventually turned up and I was loaded on board. Counting the driver, it looked like it had seating for about 9 people. We made several stops and slowly filled the van. We kept on stopping and putting more people in, plus their luggage. By now half the bus were collapsing in a combination of heat and hysterical laughter, we were packed in like sardines. They stopped at 16, by this time people were sitting in each others laps and luggage was held to the roof by ropes. No luggage racks.
A boat similar to ours leaving the terminal
We made our way out to a boat dock, for want of a better word. I had time for a quick leak, but they were urging us on board as by now we were at least an hour late.

The boat engine was loud and noisy and we took off down a narrow channel, following a road raised to ensure that it stayed dry in the wet season. At a seemingly random point we turned and dived into the vegetation surrounding us. Surprisingly the boat kept going. As I looked I realised that we now passed down a small channel, cleared of the larger debris and now kept relatively free of weeds by the regular passage of boats. I also noticed that markers, mainly old plastic bags tied to branches, also kept the driver in the channel.
Like this on both sides

The vegetation began to catch on the rudder and framework holding the propeller in place. One of the crew took life into his own hands and crept over the back of the boat. Periodically he would try to clear debris from around the rudder and propeller, on occasion raising the propeller to assist. At another time we had to stop and the driver put the motor in reverse to try to reduce the weed caught around the fittings.
Ready to clean the debris from the rudder and propeller
We came at last to lake Tonle Sap proper. An amazing feeling. This is part of one of the great ecosystems of the world. A freshwater lake that floods in the wet season, at the same time as the Mekong and Mekong Delta floods. It forms a unique habitat that cover millions of square kilometers and brings life to the parched interior of the country. Undamaged by humans. Unfortunately not, as the locals used it as a dumping ground for all their rubbish and cigarette butts during the journey. Unfortunately so did some of the other foreign travelers, people who should have known better.
We crossed the lake, guided by a large float in the middle and I later recognised a distinctive radio mast, near the entrance to the river system at the other side. What looked like magic to find our way over the lake was reduced to observation and experience.
Fisher folk at the edge of Tonle Sap
From there the trip became like an adventure into the unknown. The channels varied in size from narrow to nice open stretches of water. Tight turns made it interesting and on several the crew had to use oars to help the boat turn and on one occasion we did not make it around and hit the bank with a solid thud.
There was plenty of wildlife with small birds visible in the trees and bushes. At one stage a dead crocodile floating upside down. Even the locals were impressed by that.
We began to pass other boats, larger craft like ours making the return journey, floating homes and small fishing craft that bobbed and tossed in our wake. The driver would slow down a little to reduce the wake but I saw at least one raised fist as we passed and I am convinced that on several occasions the driver sped up deliberately early to cause discomfort to the fisher folk.
Passengers about to embark

We also began to  pass small isolated communities and on one occasion I saw a floating house being relocated with the aid of a small powerboat. Children would wave to us as we passed them on the banks or in their boats and we could see inside the houses as the locals went about their daily routines, or worked along the edges of the channel.
At some places we were stopped and people would get on board. This boat and others like it are their only form of transport and also I could tell a way of socializing for the locals as many obviously knew each other.
Well dressed, even in the middle of a river

At about the stage that my bladder could take the trip no longer we stopped at a floating dock. There was a toilet on board, but one look at the stinking fetid room was enough for me to decide to avoid it. The dock led back to the shore and some houses. At this end where we pulled up it held a small shop that also doubled as a restaurant. I was able to buy a container of rice with some fish and a vegetable sauce and a couple of cool beers.
Prior to that though nature called and after observing the etiquette of the locals I made my way around a narrow ledge next to the shop and relieved myself into the river. Males on one side of the shop females on the other. Hessian sacks dangling from the veranda roof were an attempt to preserve modesty.
I ate my meal on the boat to ensure that it would not go without me. By this time my bum was sore from the unpadded seat, but there was nothing that I could do, I had nothing with me to pad the seat which was hard and wooden. By the end of the trip I had blisters on my cheeks that stayed with me for several weeks.
After about 20 minutes we took off again. The waterways had opened up into a wider river and small communities had grown into slightly larger villages. Civilisation also intruded, with Mobile Phone Towers, the occasional power line and some solidly built brick and tile buildings interspersed amongst the wooden huts.

I was given plenty of opportunity to observe my fellow passengers. There was about a 50:50 mix of tourists like myself and locals. The locals were all invariably well dressed, better than the travelers. Their clothes were clean, whites were dazzlingly white, neatly pressed, and my fears of body odour proved groundless when seated in close company. For people who live beside or on a brown muddy river and do hard manual labour, there was no evidence of lack of personal hygiene. Almost all carried mobile phones, and they were not shy to use them. A backward country in many respects but right up with the times in many others.
Antenna dwarf the buildings underneath
The boat trip ended at a mooring beneath a bridge. There was no jetty, a big jump down to the sloping bank. It was just starting to rain with the daylight fading towards dusk. I had no idea where I was in relation to my accommodation. The crowd of passengers made their way up to the top of the river bank and slowly dispersed onto their prearranged transport. I was about the last when a man approached me and made it known that he could give me a lift. He seemed to know my hotel and mentioned a price. I readily agreed and hopped on the back of his motorbike. He carried me no more than 300 meters to my hotel. I could have walked if I had known where it was. I was happy however, the rain was about to dump down and I was dry.
Ready for the afternoon wash
The hotel was old but magnificently furnished with heavy hand carved wooden furniture, dating back to a time when the French ruled this country and brought courtesan style and European standards to the country. Maybe furniture like this was still made, but I suspect the woodworking skills were probably lost during the countries internal war. Furniture and wall panels consisted of dark wood with thick layers of varnish polished to a high shine. Worth a fortune in any western country.
After settling in and waiting for the rain to ease, I took a walk to stretch my legs. I was tired and I had a brief orientation of the city, found somewhere to eat, had a quick meal and returned home to sleep.
The Bludger was quickly asleep.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Siem Reap beyond the temples.

My hotel is a short walk to the party side of Siem Reap. I chose well. The centre of any action is based around Pub Street. It lives up to it's name. A street of bars, restaurants and.......well actually nothing else. Most places have an almost permanent happy hour of draught beer for 50 cents and Cocktails for $1.50. Free wifi while you eat and drink, outdoor eating or cooler shaded insides. There is an abundant supply of food choices from genuine Khmer food to Euro/Amer centric staples. And it is cheap. You can be well fed and on the way to inebriation for $10. Surrounding this area is the tourist markets selling the normal t-shirts, happy pants, carvings and useless souvenirs. There is also a night market which sells the same and as the night gets later there are other purchasing options. I was surprised how open things were. Example I was accosted (I use that word after due deliberation) "you want massage? I give you bang bang" and I wasn't even looking. On a side note an hours, non sex, massage costs between $3 & 7. I have had 2 so far the quality varies, but hey at that price there is no such thing as a bad massage.
Where was I? Oh yes. My first evening meal was a simple one of Spring rolls and chicken curry with rice. Very nice.
Day 2: Breakfast, served at the hotel was fresh tropical fruits, a really nice chicken rice porridge, we would consider it a savoury soup, and a lovely omellete.
Lunch I had on the go out near the Temples. There are plenty of eating, drinking and souveniring esrablishments situated at the end of the temple tours, in fact the tour paths are designed to lead you straight into these places, where you are accosted by heaps of really cute kids who will lead you to their parents places. If you even walk close to one there are calls for "cold drink", "T-shirt", "hello mister I give you good price". Anyway ignoring the cutest kids on earth I ploughed my way in to the restaurants and selected a place that looked hygenic and prosperous. An old lady was eating there, I assumed the owner or cook, I was later proved right on this point. On the basis that she was eating something local and good, I pointed at her plate and said that was what I wanted. The lady got up and cooked it. What she had turned out to be a very nice Chicken Noodle soup. I asked for chilli which came on a side plate, and were damn hot. The noodles looked suspiciously lie 2 minute noodles. But it was very nice.
Being a quiet time at the restaurant I had an opportunity to talk with the restaurant owner and staff, the old lady actually turned out to be 50. It was actually her daughter doing the translating, she worked in one of the souvenir shops on commission. By the end of lunch I had been talked into visiting her shop and consequently bought non needed stuff. Anyone want a silk scarf? I give you special price.
In the evening I ventured into town and had my first Khmer massage. $5, similar to a Thai massage but not as rough. Following that I went into an upmarket BBQ restaurant. I avoided the BBQ and had a Khmer tasting menu for $9! How cheap is that? I have to confess that I have already forgotten what the entrees were, I was presented 4 plates of sample size food. As my memory goes, mainly salads, very healthy, a string bean sald was a bit bland and a thick chicken broth with legumes in the bottom. Main courses were Eel, Fish, Shrimp presented in a variety of ways and a rather powerful tasting chicken soup, still not sure if I liked it. Deserts included several tastes of sweet cocunut based desert. The type of things that you see in Asian groceries in Australia and are never sure about tasting.
Overall a very nice meal and taste of local food. Washed down with a couple of Mojito's which were 2 for 1 happy hour all day.
After that I visited the night markets, these held no interest for me. I was talked into another massage for $1. By the time I had added extras to that it became a $6 massage. (Not the extras your dirty minds may have been thinking!)
later I cruised back through Pub Street looking for one more cocktail before bed. The place was actually quiet and the main interest in the establishment I chose was a re-run of "The life of Brian" on video screens. It is low season, not many tourists here.
The Bludger has just spent the last 4 hours in a pub, drinking 50 cent beers to write this up. Life is tough.

Nick Smith
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Angkor Wat temple complex.

The flight to Siem Reap from Singapore took about 2 hours. As we crossed the coastline I could see rivers and a patchwork quilt of fields, which I assumed were predominantly rice paddies. From this height there was no obvious signs of life. The countryside looked flat and gradually changed to become more forested and hilly. As the plane began it's descent the ground below looked a brilliant verdant green the patchwork of fields dissapeared and then took on a muddy coloured appearance. Lower still and below was a brown expanse. It suddenly dawned on me that we were coming in over lake Tonle Sap and what I was observing was the flooded plains of the surrounding countryside and the brown waters of the lake. Far from being devoid of life this is one of the most abundant places on earth. What concerned me was the fact that we seemed to be landing in all this water. In fact while being 100's of kilometres inland, Siem Reap is only 15metres above sea level.
Arrival procedures, picked up by the hotel shuttle, check in, luxury hotel forward.
I hired a car and driver for the afternoon. While Angkor Wat is a temple in it's own right, it also refers to a complex of temples. Driving into the complex you begin to realise the incredible size of this area. The approaxh is via tree lined avenues, which give it an English park like feel. Some people choose to ride bicycles around here. I would not, it is too big and to damned hot.
I commenced my tour at Angkor Thom (Google it for details). The temple lies in ruins and has only been partially restored. Consisting of 3 levels, it took several hours just to walk around. Without a guide I know that I missed heaps, however I was just struggling to comprehend the enormity of it. I took a break at one stage and visited a Buddhist shrine and then on a couple of occasions had to just sit and try to take it all in. At the very top a Hindu shrine is tucked away and it was welcome relief to spend a few minutes there away from the heat and sun and the mental overload. This temple alone probably warrants several visits to try to comprehend it.
I have little to compare this temple to. Borobodur in Java is probably larger in size and has the same awe inspiring effect. Winchester Cathedral is more modern and technically a greater achievement, I have not seen the great pyramids, but I suspect given the age these temples rival them in every way.
You may take it from the preceding that I was mightily impressed.
Moving on from there I visited the Bayon. A pyramidal structure, notable for it's steep climb to the top. I took the climb with some trepidation, the first part of the climb was a steep set of steps built into the structure, I might possibly, in a testosterone laden moment, have ignored the wooden steps and handrail purpose built for tourists. The final climb there was no option, the suicidal steps or stay down. Finishing with a walk around the platform of the Leper King and the Elephant concourse.
By this stage, despite the heat and dehydration, I had consumed lots of water, my bladder was about to burst and I was in serious need of rehydration therapy. I rushed the last bits.
The Bludger was hot, thirsty and overwhelmed.

Nick Smith
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Saturday, August 6, 2011

On the way

Well an auspicious start to the trip. When I checked in at Darwin Airport, I was checked in by quit an attractive lady. I may have been flirting a bit, which probably explains what happened later.
I wandered the terminal and then decided to go through immigration. I was just about to have my turn when I heard my name paged through the loudspeakers. I was to return to the customer service desk. It turned out that the lovely lady had checked me in under the wrong name. I had not noticed the wrong name on my ticket. That would have been awkward at immigration.
The rest went straight forward. Buying cheap Jetstar tickets really sucks. You have to buy everything, and service is poor. Waited over an hour for first opportunity to get a drink, had to chase hard for further drinks.
Arrived in Singapore for the night. Found my hotel and a very nice microbrewery across the road, which did a nice IPA. The brewery is called AdstraGold worth a second visit.
Up early and I am waiting to board the flight to Siem Reap.
TheBludger is ready to go.
Nick Smith
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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

E-visa. It's a breeze

The government of Cambodia offers an electronic application and delivery of Visa's for tourists. Their on line application is easily found via the governments web site. I also have a link on this blog site. The benefits of an e-visa is prepayment and reduced processing time when you arrive in the country. Other benefits include secure payment to authorised agencies, no need to send off your passport for processing and a quick turnaround time.
You can not use e-visa at all entry ports so it won't necessarily suit everyone. Check on line which ports you can use it at. Also at some entry points you can get a visa on arrival. However the convenience factor is enormous.
Compare what I have to do to get a visa for Vietnam. Download a pdf application form. Print it. Fill it out. Attach passport size photos. Send it with passport and money to my local Embassy or Consulate. Include a prepaid registered envelope for return postage and wait. Not that I am criticising Vietnam, there are many countries that use the same procedure, I just want to highlight the benefits of modern methods.
For Cambodia I took an electronic passport photo, filled out an on line form, added the photo, made an on line payment and had the visa less than 24 hours later delivered by email. I need to print two copies and keep them with my passport.
How easy is that? How modern is that? How internet generation is that?
The Bludger is happy with convenience.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


This site will effectively be a travel diary of a proposed tour of Cambodia.
The tour starts in Phnom Penh August 6th, 2011.