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Cambodia

The journey down from Phnom Penh is quick, but a little bit crammed on the bus, so it's a nice feeling when we can finally get off the van and stretch out.

We had a guest house in mind by Victory Beach but surprise, surprise it's full... We then head for Serendipity Beach to see if we can find some with vacancies. It's not easy to find a place and it takes us a while of walking about before we find a guest house run by an ex-pat Briton. He only has a room for the one night so the next morning we have to look around for another place. We get a room at Mick & Craig's - it's a fairly nice room, but the place obviously has some problems with its plumbing, and there was a constant whiff of sewers in the air. Keeping the fan on in the bathroom constantly did help enough for it to be habitable though.

[caption id="attachment_1808" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Serendipity Beach, Sihanoukville. Serendipity Beach, Sihanoukville.[/caption]

We go out and hire a motorbike to enable us to easily get around to the various beaches - we figured it would be very convenient that way - like it's been in places we've been before. Two minutes after getting our bike we get stopped by the police for going on red light, which was obscured by a branch and could only be seen as you cross it... I was just following the flow of traffic anyways and no-one else were taking much notice to the traffic lights - also, if I'd clamped my breaks I'd pretty much guaranteed to been rammed by the traffic behind me so anyways I would have been screwed. Strangely it's only tourists that get stopped of course, so this is an obvious way for the corrupt police to line their pockets. Everybody that get stopped are asked for an international drivers licence, and they claim the standard European licence is not accepted, which is of course absurd. We'll have to pay a small fine for running the red light (fair enough - almost), but we avoid an extra fine over the issue with the licence - if you stand your ground they will finally give up and send you on your way, but how annoying is it to be continuously pulled over every two minutes? Oh, did I say two minutes? Make that one minute.... The second time literally just a couple of hundred meters further down the road. This time we are really pissed off and won't budge at all - it's just nonsense - I HAVE AN INTERNATIONAL DRIVERS LICENCE!. After a couple of minutes we're again on the move, but one poor American couple is having a real bad time and they look terrified - they have not much money on them, and is clearly scared that they'll be arrested. Luckily we avoid the police after that, mostly by going only along the small roads rather than through the centre of town. Another stop by the police would probably have pushed me over the edge. The scooter is very convenient for getting around Sihanoukville, but every time I get onto the bike I'm very conscious about the fact that the police might be around the corner wanting to give me fictional fines. Before, I used to get stressed about driving the scooter because of the lack of experience and trying to learn how to drive these things. Now that I'm used to them I suddenly have a new worry - bloody dirty corrupt police...

We go to the Vietnamese Consulate for our visas to cross the border Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) which is our next stop. It's quite an expensive visa - just gone up from US$45 to US$60 - so it's very welcoming news to learn that I don't need a visa for Vietnam because I'm Norwegian - don't ask me why, but apart from the majority of the Asian countries and Russia only the Scandinavian countries are exempt from needing a visa. The consulate is very efficient and we're out of there and ready for going to Vietnam in next to no time.

After sorting the Visa out we head out to Victory Beach, or should we call it the Russian Coast? It's really strange - absolutely everyone at this beach seems to be Russian. We're almost a bit surprised they let us on the beach, being the only "foreigners" there. We have a little stroll along the shore, but as we didn't bring any towels and swimming-gear we're confined to stay on the dry and have a beer in one of the bars. It's quite a nice bar with a whole plane inside as decoration - it's got the very suitable name Airport Club. Afterwards we scoot over to have a look at Ocheuteal Beach (which doesn't look very inviting) before whizzing over to Otres Beach where we have a walkabout and a quick snack and a beer at Mushroom Point. It's a really quirky guest house and bar where the bamboo and straw bungalows are shaped like mushrooms, as well as the toilets/shower-rooms. It's got a really relaxing atmosphere here, which is exactly what we need after the hassle with the police earlier in the day.

[caption id="attachment_1814" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Otres Beach, Sihanoukville. Otres Beach, Sihanoukville.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1815" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Otres Beach, Sihanoukville. Otres Beach, Sihanoukville.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1816" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Otres Beach, Sihanoukville. Otres Beach, Sihanoukville.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1817" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Otres Beach, Sihanoukville. Otres Beach, Sihanoukville.[/caption]

The next day we head back to Victory Beach for a bit of sun-bathing. We found the Airport Club quite nice so we get a couple of sun-beds with them. Although it's like a "Little Russia" and us being "outsiders" it's really quiet and relaxed and we enjoy a rare treat of lounging on the beach - the water is also really nice, as is the fine white sandy beach.

[caption id="attachment_1809" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Victory Beach, Sihanoukville. Victory Beach, Sihanoukville.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1810" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Victory Beach, Sihanoukville. Victory Beach, Sihanoukville.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1811" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Victory Beach, Sihanoukville. Victory Beach, Sihanoukville.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1818" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Victory Beach, Sihanoukville. Victory Beach, Sihanoukville.[/caption]

The transport to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam we arrange the evening before planned travel, and we're surprised to find there is a very big demand for this route so all the direct busses are already booked out days in advance. Our only option is to travel to Ha Tien first, and then book another bus from there to Ho Chi Minh City. With no other alternative we do exactly that.

On the morning of our departure we decide to have breakfast at Mum's Kitchen - a lovely little restaurant across from our guesthouse. Unfortunately it would take quite a while before the food was ready to be served, and we end up having to ask for take-away doggie bags as the minivan turns up to collect us. We could have easily had more time to finish our meal though if they'd come back for us at the end. They were driving us around in circles for about 20-30 minutes afterwards passing the restaurant twice... The minivan slowly gets filled to the rafters and we're thankfully lucky enough to sit on a row of seats where it’s not too crammed. First stop is in two hours time they inform us, which I'm sure is not welcoming news for the ones that are almost sitting in each other’s laps. Slightly squashed we get to the border of Vietnam and then have to get onto motorbikes to take us over the border-crossing and into the town of Ha Tien. We get dropped off from the motorbikes outside a branch of the travel agency we booked our trip to Ha Tien with, and luckily they've got spaces in the bus for us to take us up to Ho Chi Minh the same evening. We have three hours to kill while waiting for the bus departure and go to find some food, and of course a couple of beers.

We arrive in Phnom Penh in the early afternoon. The journey from Battambang went fine, and as we arrive we decide to start walking towards a backpacker area Hannah stayed in last time she was here. A lot has changed since Hannah was her last though, and we find the area mostly deserted and it looks nothing like it used to - there even used to be a large lake next to the strip of guest houses, but even that has disappeared. We quickly decide to get out of there and head into the centre and a guest house mentioned in the Lonely Planet. The guest house is unfortunately full so we have to look around for alternatives. We suddenly realise the guest houses on this road are the ones that used to be located near to where there used to be a lake - they've all moved together and created a new backpacker area here. We decide to stay at Number 9 Hotel, it's the same guest house as we had planned to stay at but at their previous address. It's very basic and has not got much light coming - there are only windows into the hallway - however it's quite a spacious room. We're happy as it's fairly cheap and clean.

[caption id="attachment_1770" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1786" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Hannah's new Sandals. Hannah's new Sandals.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1778" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1779" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh.[/caption]

After freshening up we head out for a bite to eat and head to the riverside. Along the way we encounter the mourning of King Sihanouk that passed away in October 2012 - it's almost at the end of their period of mourning the king and there is a huge procession of mourners lining up for a ceremony in front of the royal palace. Quite a sight - we've never seen so many monks before. We're not alone in our astonishment though - everywhere people (tourists and locals alike) are taking snaps of the endless line of monks in their orange robes.

[caption id="attachment_1771" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Cambodia comemmorating former King Sihanouk who died in Bejing on the 15th of October 2012. Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 26th of January 2013. Cambodia comemmorating former King Sihanouk who died in Bejing on the 15th of October 2012. Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 26th of January 2013.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1772" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Cambodia comemmorating former King Sihanouk who died in Bejing on the 15th of October 2012. Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 26th of January 2013. Cambodia comemmorating former King Sihanouk who died in Bejing on the 15th of October 2012. Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 26th of January 2013.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1773" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Cambodia comemmorating former King Sihanouk who died in Bejing on the 15th of October 2012. Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 26th of January 2013. Cambodia comemmorating former King Sihanouk who died in Bejing on the 15th of October 2012. Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 26th of January 2013.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1774" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Cambodia comemmorating former King Sihanouk who died in Bejing on the 15th of October 2012. Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 26th of January 2013. Cambodia comemmorating former King Sihanouk who died in Bejing on the 15th of October 2012. Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 26th of January 2013.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1775" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Cambodia comemmorating former King Sihanouk who died in Bejing on the 15th of October 2012. Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 26th of January 2013. Cambodia comemmorating former King Sihanouk who died in Bejing on the 15th of October 2012. Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 26th of January 2013.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1776" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Cambodia comemmorating former King Sihanouk who died in Bejing on the 15th of October 2012. Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 26th of January 2013. Cambodia comemmorating former King Sihanouk who died in Bejing on the 15th of October 2012. Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 26th of January 2013.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1777" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Cambodia comemmorating former King Sihanouk who died in Bejing on the 15th of October 2012. Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 26th of January 2013. Cambodia comemmorating former King Sihanouk who died in Bejing on the 15th of October 2012. Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 26th of January 2013.[/caption]

We don't have time for a very long stay in Phnom Penh, but we get to visit the S-21 Prison Museum (Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide) and The Killing Fields at Choeung Ek while we're here. We decide to use our feet and walk down to the S-21 Prison Museum. As we approach the Museum we pass other tourists with shocked faces and tears in their eyes - it's a warning of what is awaiting us inside the prison. The Khmer Rouge documented their prisoners/victims very thoroughly and a lot of the photos are displayed in the museum. Hundreds upon hundreds of portraits of men, women, children and elderly - very few survived this prison where they were brought in on fictional charges and tortured until they confessed (or died), and then scheduled for execution. Many died at the prison but the majority would be sent to the Killing Fields about 17 kilometres south. This is our next destination and we hire a tuc-tuc to take us down to the site where an estimation of up to 20000 people was executed during the four years of the regime. There were more than 150 killing-fields in Cambodia.

[caption id="attachment_1780" align="aligncenter" width="533"]The S-21 Prison Museum (Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide), Phnom Penh. The S-21 Prison Museum (Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide), Phnom Penh.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1781" align="aligncenter" width="545"]The S-21 Prison Museum (Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide), Phnom Penh. The S-21 Prison Museum (Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide), Phnom Penh.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1782" align="aligncenter" width="545"]The S-21 Prison Museum (Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide), Phnom Penh. The S-21 Prison Museum (Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide), Phnom Penh.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1783" align="aligncenter" width="545"]The S-21 Prison Museum (Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide), Phnom Penh. The S-21 Prison Museum (Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide), Phnom Penh.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1784" align="aligncenter" width="545"]The S-21 Prison Museum (Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide), Phnom Penh. The S-21 Prison Museum (Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide), Phnom Penh.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1785" align="aligncenter" width="533"]The S-21 Prison Museum (Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide), Phnom Penh. The S-21 Prison Museum (Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide), Phnom Penh.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1787" align="aligncenter" width="533"]The S-21 Prison Museum (Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide), Phnom Penh. The S-21 Prison Museum (Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide), Phnom Penh.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1788" align="aligncenter" width="545"]The S-21 Prison Museum (Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide), Phnom Penh. The S-21 Prison Museum (Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide), Phnom Penh.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1789" align="aligncenter" width="545"]The S-21 Prison Museum (Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide), Phnom Penh. The S-21 Prison Museum (Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide), Phnom Penh.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1790" align="aligncenter" width="545"]The S-21 Prison Museum (Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide), Phnom Penh. The S-21 Prison Museum (Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide), Phnom Penh.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1791" align="aligncenter" width="533"]The S-21 Prison Museum (Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide), Phnom Penh. The S-21 Prison Museum (Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide), Phnom Penh.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1792" align="aligncenter" width="545"]The S-21 Prison Museum (Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide), Phnom Penh. The S-21 Prison Museum (Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide), Phnom Penh.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1793" align="aligncenter" width="533"]The S-21 Prison Museum (Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide), Phnom Penh. The S-21 Prison Museum (Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide), Phnom Penh.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1794" align="aligncenter" width="533"]The S-21 Prison Museum (Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide), Phnom Penh. The S-21 Prison Museum (Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide), Phnom Penh.[/caption]

The Killing Fields are now a very tranquil place, but at the same time chilling to the core as you can't help stepping on fragments of bone and rags of clothing that has come up to the surface over time with the natural movement of the soil. At the centre of the site there is a magnificent memorial stupa which contains over 9000 sculls on the lower levels and other bones and larger fragments on the upper levels - not all the graves have been excavated so they can't be sure of the numbers of people were killed here and they've made the decision to leave many of the graves as they are in order to leave the victims in peace.

[caption id="attachment_1795" align="aligncenter" width="533"]The Killing Fields at Choeung Ek, Phnom Penh. The Killing Fields at Choeung Ek, Phnom Penh.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1796" align="aligncenter" width="545"]The Killing Fields at Choeung Ek, Phnom Penh. The Killing Fields at Choeung Ek, Phnom Penh.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1797" align="aligncenter" width="533"]"Killing Tree, against which executioners beat children" The Killing Fields at Choeung Ek, Phnom Penh. "Killing Tree, against which executioners beat children" The Killing Fields at Choeung Ek, Phnom Penh.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1798" align="aligncenter" width="533"]The Killing Fields at Choeung Ek, Phnom Penh. The Killing Fields at Choeung Ek, Phnom Penh.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1799" align="aligncenter" width="533"]The Killing Fields at Choeung Ek, Phnom Penh. The Killing Fields at Choeung Ek, Phnom Penh.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1800" align="aligncenter" width="533"]The Killing Fields at Choeung Ek, Phnom Penh. The Killing Fields at Choeung Ek, Phnom Penh.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1801" align="aligncenter" width="533"]The Killing Fields at Choeung Ek, Phnom Penh. The Killing Fields at Choeung Ek, Phnom Penh.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1802" align="aligncenter" width="545"]In the tuc-tuc on our way back from the Killing Fields. In the tuc-tuc on our way back from the Killing Fields.[/caption]

It's been a day with a bit of a history lesson to say the least, and to top it up we go to the Mekong River Cafe in the evening for a screening of a documentary of the history of the Khmer Rouge. We get a bit more of an explanation of the political scene and how the Khmer Rouge came about, and you would think it then would make more sense - although not justify what happened - but it's still makes no sense as the change was so sudden, drastic and incredibly cruel that there seem to be no logical thinking behind it.

From Phnom Penh we head for the beaches of Sihanoukville. It's a fairly short journey by bus with little legroom so a bit crammed, but at least the suffering is short lived.

As we get dropped off at the bus station we immediately notice the lack of intimidating tuc-tuc drivers compared to Siem Reap - what a relief. We decide to walk towards the guest houses we've picked from a combination of the Lonely Planet and Tripadvisor. It's very hot in the sun and I soon resemble Niagara Falls... All the guest houses we'd picked as favourites before leaving Siem Reap are unfortunately full, and we have to settle with going for the "door to door technique" we visit quite a few grotty hotels - why are the nicer ones always taken... No need to answer that on second thought... We finally find the Royal Hotel, and they offer us an OK room at a discounted rate - a bit more expensive than what we normally go for, but I'm tired of walking up and down stairs in this heat looking like a drowned rat to look at sh*t-holes so it'll do.

In the afternoon we do a self-guided tour of Battambang’s architecture that we downloaded from KA Tours - it has many traces of the French colonisation and some nice Art Deco influences. At some stage it's like we could as well be standing in a street somewhere in France. After our sightseeing we stop by Smoking Pot, a restaurant mentioned in the Lonely Planet. We have some gorgeous wok-roasted chicken and decide to book a cooking class for the following afternoon. After our splendid dinner we visit Bamboo Train Cafe and Riverside Balcony Bar, both are very nice bars, but because they're a little bit out of the centre of town they're both very quiet - a real shame as they both have a lot of character - much more so than the more "fancy" bars around the hotels in the centre of town, which are more generic and could as well be anywhere in Europe - and they're overpriced.

[caption id="attachment_1727" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Pipetharam, Battambang. Wat Pipetharam, Battambang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1728" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Battambang. Battambang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1729" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Central Market, Battambang. Central Market, Battambang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1730" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Battambang. Battambang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1731" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Battambang. Battambang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1732" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Battambang. Battambang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1733" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Battambang. Battambang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1734" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Old Sangker Cinema, Battambang. Old Sangker Cinema, Battambang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1735" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Wat Damrey Sor, Battambang. Wat Damrey Sor, Battambang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1736" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Wat Damrey Sor, Battambang. Wat Damrey Sor, Battambang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1737" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Wat Damrey Sor, Battambang. Wat Damrey Sor, Battambang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1738" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Wat Damrey Sor, Battambang. Wat Damrey Sor, Battambang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1739" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Battambang Railway Station. Battambang Railway Station.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1740" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Battambang Railway Station. Battambang Railway Station.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1741" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Battambang. Battambang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1742" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Battambang. Battambang.[/caption]

The next day we manage to be ten minutes late for our cooking class at Smokin Pot with Vannak. A bit embarrassing as the other couple attending the class are waiting for us for the lesson to begin. We first go to the Central Market to pick up the ingredients needed. We pick up various vegetables and the fish for our main dish. The fish is called snake-fish and there is no doubt it's fresh as it's still alive when purchased. After a bit of a brutal treatment by the market trader the fish is most definitely dead and quickly relieved of its scales and fins. We then head back to start our lessons. It's similar to the Laos and Thai cooking lessons we've had, but at the same time quite distinctive. On the menu for the day it's Amok Snake-Fish, Beef Lok Lak and Khmer Style Coconut Roasted Chicken (the same as we had here the evening before). The other couple are Flavie and Sacha, a French couple that are at the start of their 10 months travel and we realise they're also blogging on Wordpress, same as us. If you like to have a look at their adventure you can visit their page at East Side Story. After the class is over we have a nice long chat with the owner of Smokin Pot and our teacher of the day Vannak.

[caption id="attachment_1743" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Central Market, Battambang. Central Market, Battambang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1744" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Central Market, Battambang. Central Market, Battambang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1745" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Cooking Class at Smokin Pot Restaurant, Battambang. Cooking Class at Smokin Pot Restaurant, Battambang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1746" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Cooking Class at Smokin Pot Restaurant, Battambang. Cooking Class at Smokin Pot Restaurant, Battambang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1747" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Cooking Class at Smokin Pot Restaurant, Battambang. Cooking Class at Smokin Pot Restaurant, Battambang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1748" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Cooking Class at Smokin Pot Restaurant, Battambang. Cooking Class at Smokin Pot Restaurant, Battambang.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1749" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Cooking Class at Smokin Pot Restaurant, Battambang. The Snake-Fish Amok sizzling in the pan. Cooking Class at Smokin Pot Restaurant, Battambang. The Snake-Fish Amok sizzling in the pan.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1750" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Cooking Class at Smokin Pot Restaurant, Battambang. The Snake-Fish Amok ready for serving. Cooking Class at Smokin Pot Restaurant, Battambang. The Snake-Fish Amok ready for serving.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1751" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Cooking Class at Smokin Pot Restaurant, Battambang. The Snake-Fish Amok ready for serving. Cooking Class at Smokin Pot Restaurant, Battambang. The Snake-Fish Amok ready for serving.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1752" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Cooking Class at Smokin Pot Restaurant, Battambang. The Beef Lok-Lak ready for serving. Cooking Class at Smokin Pot Restaurant, Battambang. The Beef Lok-Lak ready for serving.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1753" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Cooking Class at Smokin Pot Restaurant, Battambang. Vannak showing us how to pan-roast a chicken in coconut water. Cooking Class at Smokin Pot Restaurant, Battambang. Vannak showing us how to pan-roast a chicken in coconut water.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1754" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Cooking Class at Smokin Pot Restaurant, Battambang. Vannak showing us how to pan-roast a chicken in coconut water. Cooking Class at Smokin Pot Restaurant, Battambang. Vannak showing us how to pan-roast a chicken in coconut water.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1755" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Cooking Class at Smokin Pot Restaurant, Battambang. Vannak showing us how to pan-roast a chicken in coconut water. Cooking Class at Smokin Pot Restaurant, Battambang. Vannak showing us how to pan-roast a chicken in coconut water.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1760" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Cooking Class at Smokin Pot Restaurant, Battambang. Vannak showing us how to pan-roast a chicken in coconut water. Cooking Class at Smokin Pot Restaurant, Battambang. Vannak showing us how to pan-roast a chicken in coconut water.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1756" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Cooking Class at Smokin Pot Restaurant, Battambang. Vannak showing us how to pan-roast a chicken in coconut water. Cooking Class at Smokin Pot Restaurant, Battambang. Vannak showing us how to pan-roast a chicken in coconut water.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1757" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Cooking Class at Smokin Pot Restaurant, Battambang. Vannak showing us how to pan-roast a chicken in coconut water. Cooking Class at Smokin Pot Restaurant, Battambang. Vannak showing us how to pan-roast a chicken in coconut water.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1758" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Cooking Class at Smokin Pot Restaurant, Battambang. Vannak showing us how to pan-roast a chicken in coconut water. Cooking Class at Smokin Pot Restaurant, Battambang. Vannak showing us how to pan-roast a chicken in coconut water.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1759" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Cooking Class at Smokin Pot Restaurant, Battambang. Pan-Coconut-Water-Roasted Chicken. Cooking Class at Smokin Pot Restaurant, Battambang. Pan-Coconut-Water-Roasted Chicken.[/caption]

Our next stop is Pnom Penh, and it's a fairly short journey which we conveniently book from our hotel. No complications at all with the travel are a welcoming change and we arrive in Pnom Penh on time and without any issues underway - what a joy, we love Battambang!

The journey to Siem Reap from Don Det was not the best experience we could have hoped for - lots of unnecessary waiting before we get going and on several stops underway. The bus was also supposed to be direct but we had to change twice - not counting the first change after only ten minutes because there was something wrong with the first bus we got onto. There were much complaining amongst our fellow tourists, and sometimes so much so that there were shouting involved - with these journeys though you know what situation you're in and how they try to delay the journey so that you pick their choice of hotel for the night as it's too much hassle to try to find one yourself when you arrive late at night. What I don't understand is why make it worse by stressing about it - we'll get there in the end, although several hours delayed, and there isn't really a problem to find a place to stay as the hotels always have someone sleeping in reception ready to check in new guests when arriving well into the small hours - it's just a question of ringing the bell and wake them up.

We didn't have a booking for a place to stay and just chanced it with a guest house suggested by the Lonely Planet and that had great reviews on Tripadvisor as well. The place we picked was called Happy Guest House and we were in luck to find someone was still awake in the reception, and they had a room free. Unfortunately the room was only available for the one night. Happy Guest House is exactly that and I can recommend it if you're in Siem Reap. The next morning - as there had been no cancellations - they recommended the guest house next door for us, and after exploring our other options we followed their advice and were not disappointed. It's called Prohm Roth Inn, and we got a lovely large room on the top floor, with a little bit of view, and it had a lovely hot shower as well.

The town centre of Siem Reap is not too much to be desired unless you're a binge-drinking lout with more money than sense - it's become too commercialised and tacky. With the main strip called Pub Street you can guess without going there it's not the place to experience traditional Cambodian food and culture. I can understand why Hannah didn't like the town any more (she went here seven years ago). There are still some nice places left in Siem Reap though, you just have to go outside of the main strip to find the gems that are still left.

[caption id="attachment_1652" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Butterflies Garden Restaurant, Siem Reap. Butterflies Garden Restaurant, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1653" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Siem Reap. Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1654" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Local shop and gas station off the beaten track in Siem Reap. Local shop and gas station off the beaten track in Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1655" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Siem Reap. Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1657" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Siem Reap. Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1656" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Siem Reap. Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1658" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Ostrich ready for the Cambodian Barbeque, Siem Reap. Ostrich ready for the Cambodian Barbeque, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1659" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Siem Reap. Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1662" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Wat Thmei, Siem Reap. Wat Thmei, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1663" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Wat Thmei, Siem Reap. Wat Thmei, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1664" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Wat Thmei, Siem Reap. Wat Thmei, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1661" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Siem Reap. Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1665" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Siem Reap. Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1660" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Memorial Graveyard commemorating 8836 men and women who died for their region, country and kingdom. Siem Reap. Memorial Graveyard commemorating 8836 men and women who died for their region, country and kingdom. Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1666" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Memorial Graveyard commemorating 8836 men and women who died for their region, country and kingdom. Siem Reap. Memorial Graveyard commemorating 8836 men and women who died for their region, country and kingdom. Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1667" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Memorial Graveyard commemorating 8836 men and women who died for their region, country and kingdom. Siem Reap. Memorial Graveyard commemorating 8836 men and women who died for their region, country and kingdom. Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1668" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Memorial Graveyard commemorating 8836 men and women who died for their region, country and kingdom. Siem Reap. Memorial Graveyard commemorating 8836 men and women who died for their region, country and kingdom. Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1669" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Memorial Graveyard commemorating 8836 men and women who died for their region, country and kingdom. Siem Reap. Memorial Graveyard commemorating 8836 men and women who died for their region, country and kingdom. Siem Reap.[/caption]

Ankhor Wat, as it turns out, is a bit of a circus and although the site is immensely impressive exploring it like a sardine in a tin is not the ideal way of experiencing it. Didn't help that when I arrived in the pitch black of morning before sunrise I was turned away by the guards and had to cycle back to the one and only ticket office of the whole site - it would be great if the guide would have told me there is only the one ticket office. There are several roads leading into Ankhor Wat and it would be good to be told which one to approach the site by in order to enter without having to peddle like a madman in a 8 kilometre loop to get the ticket and get into Ankhor in time for the sunrise. This set me off in a really foul mood for most of the morning, added to this was the fact that the front of Ankhor Wat was covered in scaffolding and green tarpaulin, and beyond anyone's control the sunrise was very dull that day. I had to concentrate hard on enjoying the monuments rather than dwelling on the fact that it was a stressful and disappointing start of the day. Even from early on in the morning the site was really crowded, but it wasn't too bad as I wandered around inside Ankhor Wat itself. When I later moved onto the Ta Prohm though it really became a circus - this temple is particularly famous because it was used as a location when filming Tomb Raider. This is where I learnt how it must feel to be a tinned sardine. People were either pushing through like they own the place, or weren't moving at all and blocking the access for everybody else.

Don't get me wrong though, the site is absolutely awe-inspiring and definitely worth visiting. It would of course have been better if I had more time to spend exploring the area, and not just the one day... I would in hindsight (and if I had time for it) maybe spread it over quite a few days and concentrate on going to the most popular ones as dawn breaks, and then fit one or two smaller sites in afters - then head back for lunch and maybe relax in the guest house or by a pool in the afternoon. Over a few days you can then see all the best known and busy sights without so much crowding and stress.

Also, all this traffic must be damaging to the site in the long run - there might be an idea to have a certain quota of how many people can visit the area per day to make sure the monuments don't get damaged.

[caption id="attachment_1670" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Angkor Wat, Siem Reap. Angkor Wat, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1700" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Angkor Wat, Siem Reap. Angkor Wat, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1701" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Angkor Wat, Siem Reap. Angkor Wat, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1702" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Angkor Wat, Siem Reap. Angkor Wat, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1703" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Angkor Wat, Siem Reap. Angkor Wat, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1704" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Angkor Wat, Siem Reap. Angkor Wat, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1705" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Angkor Wat, Siem Reap. Angkor Wat, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1706" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Angkor Wat, Siem Reap. Angkor Wat, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1707" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Angkor Wat, Siem Reap. Angkor Wat, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1708" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Angkor Wat, Siem Reap. Angkor Wat, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1709" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Angkor Wat, Siem Reap. Angkor Wat, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1710" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Angkor Wat, Siem Reap. Angkor Wat, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1711" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Angkor Wat, Siem Reap. Angkor Wat, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1671" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Banteay Kdei, Siem Reap. Banteay Kdei, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1672" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Banteay Kdei, Siem Reap. Banteay Kdei, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1673" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Banteay Kdei, Siem Reap. Banteay Kdei, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1674" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Banteay Kdei, Siem Reap. Banteay Kdei, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1675" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Banteay Kdei, Siem Reap. Banteay Kdei, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1676" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Banteay Kdei, Siem Reap. Banteay Kdei, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1677" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Banteay Kdei, Siem Reap. Banteay Kdei, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1678" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Ta Prohm, Siem Reap. Ta Prohm, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1679" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Ta Prohm, Siem Reap. Ta Prohm, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1680" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Ta Prohm, Siem Reap. Ta Prohm, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1681" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Ta Prohm, Siem Reap. Ta Prohm, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1682" align="aligncenter" width="527"]Ta Prohm, Siem Reap. Ta Prohm, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1684" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Ta Prohm, Siem Reap. Ta Prohm, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1685" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Ta Prohm, Siem Reap. Ta Prohm, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1686" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Thommanon, Siem Reap. Thommanon, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1687" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Thommanon, Siem Reap. Thommanon, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1688" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Thommanon, Siem Reap. Thommanon, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1689" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Victory Gate to Angkor Thom, Siem Reap. Victory Gate to Angkor Thom, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1690" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Near Elephants Terrace in Angkor Thom, Siem Reap. Near Elephants Terrace in Angkor Thom, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1691" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Prasat Preah Palilay in Angkor Thom, Siem Reap. Prasat Preah Palilay in Angkor Thom, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1692" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Prasat Preah Palilay in Angkor Thom, Siem Reap. Prasat Preah Palilay in Angkor Thom, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1693" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Prasat Preah Palilay in Angkor Thom, Siem Reap. Prasat Preah Palilay in Angkor Thom, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1694" align="aligncenter" width="533"]Prasat Preah Palilay in Angkor Thom, Siem Reap. Prasat Preah Palilay in Angkor Thom, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1695" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Prasat Preah Palilay in Angkor Thom, Siem Reap. Prasat Preah Palilay in Angkor Thom, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1696" align="aligncenter" width="545"]Prasat Preah Palilay in Angkor Thom, Siem Reap. Prasat Preah Palilay in Angkor Thom, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1697" align="aligncenter" width="545"]South Gate Bridge to Angkor Thom, Siem Reap. South Gate Bridge to Angkor Thom, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1698" align="aligncenter" width="545"]South Gate Bridge to Angkor Thom, Siem Reap. South Gate Bridge to Angkor Thom, Siem Reap.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1699" align="aligncenter" width="533"]South Gate Bridge to Angkor Thom, Siem Reap. South Gate Bridge to Angkor Thom, Siem Reap.[/caption]

We also wanted to visit the Landmine Museum, but to our surprise it's been moved 25km out of town and the tuc-tuc drivers was asking too much for taking us there.

Next stop is Battambang, a town known for its remains of French colonial architecture. It's a fairly quick journey to get there and we arrange for a bus with Happy Guest House as they quote us the best price. A semi early start meant we didn't have time for a breakfast before heading off, but if the bus-company was a bit better organised we could have left about an hour and a half later... We get picked up and driven around in circles to pick more people up before we get transferred to a large bus. The bus then goes out to a bus depot about 20 minutes outside of Siem Reap. Here we again change to another bus that takes us back to the centre of Siem Reap, passing the street where we were staying and even passing the place where we transferred to the previous bus. It then circles around town for a bit longer - have no idea why as it's not stopping anywhere to pick up more people... After all this we're finally on our way to Battambang.

It feels very sudden, despite months of preparations, but it's now less than a day before we head off for what will be a very big adventure. Tomorrow the flight will take us to the first stop on our journey, New Delhi. We're braced for a bit of a culture shock but more and more excited for each hour that passes. A quick outline of our trip: India, Nepal, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Bali, Singapore, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Guatemala, and Mexico. We've been trying to catch up with as many of our friends as possible before heading off. But alas, some we have not had the chance to meet up with. We'll be sure to get around to see everyone on our return in five months time. We're feeling very humbled by all the well wishes from everybody - and we had a most wonderful leaving-party (sorry neighbours). One of the highlights must be the cake by Lauren http://cookingbakingandallthingsfood.blogspot.co.uk Absolutely amazing! We've been repeatedly stabbed by various doctors/nurses and injected with many concoctions to vaccinate us against what felt like every disease known to man... Everything (almost) is now packed and today we're sorting the very last details out. Soon we'll not have any more time for more details and what has not been sorted just won't be - tough luck... This reminds me I have to get started. We're off!!!