Stay with me as I take you on the ride that was my trip to Cambodia and Hong Kong in December 2008 to January 2009.
I’ll post this as a single page so you can read through it at your leisure. Goodness knows how I found enough time to get all this down as I was on the go pretty much all of the time I was away!
Early start: up at about 4am. I had my Lawson’s breakfast and got ready. I found myself gazing absently at the Japanese early morning TV for quite a while as the minutes ticked by. The longer time spent in my warm hotel room, the less time spent in the cold of the bus station. Eventually I checked and dragged my suitcase across the train line to the bus station.
There weren’t many people there when I arrived and after I’d bought my ticket no one checked that people had reservations. Oh well – that was a wasted phone call. There were the usual Japanese travellers but a smattering of fellow foreigners as well. All in all there were maybe a dozen of us, which was good as I could spread out and not have to worry about anyone behind me.
The check-in and passport check went smoothly. The suitcase weighed 20.6kg. I think I’m getting good at estimating that now. Had a hot cocoa from Sta-ba (Starbucks, for the non-Japanese speakers) and the checked out the bookshop. I ended up buying a copy of Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine”. I’ve heard a lot of praise for it and a lot of the good writers that I like to read about what’s going on in the world have recommended it. I started it while waiting for the plane to Hong Kong and immediately it started pushing my buttons. Good.
The flight to Hong Kong was with JAL. Not a full plane so there was an empty seat next to me. The staff were really good and the meal actually good too for a change – often JAL meals seemed a bit stale to me. Smooth flight and a good landing.
The transfer in Hong Kong went well and I had a bit of time to check out the shops. I made some enquiries about getting a SIM card for my Nokia phone but the guy in the shop wasn’t very helpful, really. Once it was clear that I was just enquiring, he turned off and actually became dismissive. Well, that’s OK – I didn’t have to buy anything from HIS shop either.
I bought a Lonely Planet Hong Kong from the bookshop, as well as a copy of “The War Of The World” by Niall Ferguson. Its premise is that the main wars of the 20th Century – basically from the Great War onwards – were all part of a single war fought over the course of the century. It’ll be interesting to see how that stacks up against the other histories I’ve read and watched about these conflicts. I think I’ve taken care of my holiday reading very nicely!
The eye candy on Vietnam Airlines planes is excellent – not what you’re thinking! The graphics that show where you are as you’re flying were the best I’ve ever seen. The camera zoomed around the CG plane, highlighting nearby cities as well as having an animated flight path to follow. It was quite something.
The uniforms of the cabin attendants were also lovely. They wore a short bottomed tunic, but with long tails from the front and back which added modesty over beige high-waisted tailored pants. It showed off their figures, but at the same time was graceful, elegant and uniquely Vietnamese. I’d almost place them above the uniforms worn by the Singapore Airline girls. The shop staff in the airport wore similar uniforms.
Flying into Ho Chi Mihn, it was possible to catch a glimpse of the city. It’s quite a flat city; not many tall buildings at all as far as I could make out. It was covered by a rusty haze but it was possible to see the rivers and lakes that punctuate the urban sprawl. Such a different sight compared to the dry and parched landscapes of Australia. I have to visit here sometime. For now it was just the airport, the duty free shops and waiting to board the last flight.
My ears were really gone after the flight so it was hard to hear the announcements. I had to check with a couple of fellow travellers (turns out they were French lads) after one announcement as it really was just a mumble in my ringing ears. One more flight to go…
Thankfully it was just a short hop so we wouldn’t be reaching the altitudes of the previous two. There really was just enough time for the cabin crew to throw a boxed snack (ham roll, water, chocolate) at us before we started our descent. I had an emergency row seat so couldn’t see much at all. After we landed we descended the staircase and walked to the terminal. It was quite an impressive welcome. Built in the Khmer style, it was lit spectacularly in the evening sky and with smiling security staff showing the way, it was a welcome relief after a long day of travelling. I purchased my visa, which didn’t take too long, and made my way past the vacant customs area to the outside.
I thought there might be a taxi waiting for me so I scanned the clutter of men holding signs for one with my name but I couldn’t find one. I went to the taxi booking office to get one and as I was giving him my details the guy asked me if a guy who had materialised next to me was my driver. His sign said “Sheree Fisher, Red Piano Hotel” so yes, that was me. They’d written the name of the person who booked the hotel instead of mine. Ah well… It was funny to explain to the guy that my name wasn’t ‘Sheree’ for some of the way into town. His name was Ban Thoeun and he spoke pretty good English and had a good sense of humour, from what I could make out behind my wall of (hopefully) temporary deafness.
The main road from the airport into the town was lined with new-looking luxury hotels. Ban explained that most of them were built in the past few years and while they were a good source of employment for the locals, the wages were often quite low. They were all festooned with Christmas lights which was a bit amusing considering we’re in a Buddhist country. I guess they think we want to be reminded of what we’re missing out on back home. I wouldn’t have minded if there was nothing at all. The roads were quite good, although we came across a couple of floods from burst pipes as well as some stretches of bumpy dirt track. Ban tried to sell his services to me as we pulled up to the hotel and didn’t let up as we got inside. I really wished that he understood that I got the point but I really wanted just to relax, get something to eat and drink, and have a chance to think and work out what we would want to do.
The room was on the second floor, with two beds and a lovely warm orange theme. The beds were decorated with hotel name logos on the headstands, so they have invested some money here! Changed and made my way to Pub Street for something to eat. I passed a number of touts for ‘sexy girls’ as well as the ever-present tuk-tuk drivers. The distances are much shorter than what I had believed according to the maps I’d poured over before my arrival so that was a welcome relief.
I ended up stopping at a place called ‘World Lounge’, which had a logo not unlike that of the Hard Rock Cafe, for a bite to eat. I had a bottle of Angkor Beer, which was initially quite bitter but settled nicely in the mouth. Not a bad lager at all. I also had chicken fried rice.
I struck up a conversation with a couple next to me who were from South Africa. The husband was white and the woman was black; a symbol of the new South Africa right there. They’d been here for three days and recommended that floating city very strongly. That’s high up on my list of places to go so it was good to hear that it was such a good experience for them.
The beer started to kick in and enhanced my tiredness, so it was time to head off back to my room. I guess it was about 11 by this point. I wandered down to the far end of Pub Street to check it out. There was a second-hand bookshop which had some Clive Cussler books for sale that I might pick up. The book of his (The Navigator) that I’d picked up in Thailand was actually pretty good, so I might make the most of the opportunity to pick up some more at a cheap price. There were about twenty Lonely Planet Thailands, and about a dozen for Laos.
On my way back to the hotel end of pub street I picked up one small child saying “one dollar” repeatedly, as well as one prostitute who may well have been trans-gendered. Welcome to South-East Asia! I left them both behind and bought some supplies from the convenience store, avoiding more touts and beggars as I made my way back to the hotel, which was locked.
After a bit of looking around a security guard appeared from the shadows, let me in through the gate, un-padlocked the main door and fetched my key for me. Teeth, BBC, bed. Aaaah, the BBC World News channel! How I missed thee.
Woke up early – had no idea what time it was. Showered, got dressed and headed out for some breakfast. I picked up a voucher for the complimentary breakfast at the Red Piano restaurant from the front desk and headed off. The tuk-tuk guys must work 24 hours. I guess they have to…
The restaurant was basically deserted. I guess it was about 8am when I got there. The breakfast was very basic; a small bowl of sliced fruit, a couple of bread rolls with New Zealand butter and Austrian strawberry jam and a cup of quite good coffee but no milk. Quite reasonable under the circumstances, but I might try further afield some time for a good old-fashioned fry-up.
I went for a wander to expand my knowledge of the local area. The Old Market was opening up so I checked that out. There was a large butchers’ area in one section which was very interesting. There were all sorts of dried fish and spicy-looking sausages strung up from the ceiling as well as the sound of cleavers chopping their way through flesh and bone from the workers below. There were dozens of craft shops all selling identical t-shirts, silver, jewellery, silks, knick-knacks and paintings.
I followed the street along the Siem Reap River and could hear what sounded like a call to prayer from the Wat on the other side. I went inside the complex and indeed there was something like a call to prayer coming from a loudspeaker. I enjoyed the sounds as locals went about their business. I didn’t go upstairs to the worship centre part of the temple though.
I wandered my way back to the hotel, picking up some postcards and a map from a nice-looking bookshop as well as checking out some of the other local shops and restaurants for ideas.
I amused myself by reading and typing the diary while waiting for Sheree to show up.
Enough waiting, time to EAT. I found a Chinese/Khmer place around the corner and had a bowl of noodles with braised pork as well as a plate of fried eggplant and potato. The soup was dark and rich – a little oily but OK for me. The vegies had been stir-fried with a dark and lightly spiced paste which really added a lot to the flavour. Nice waitress too – friendly and perhaps about half my size!
I stopped by the internet cafe on the way back. E-mails from Sheree telling me she would be at the hotel by now, from Mum wondering if I’m OK and Fatima. Her grandfather died on Friday so she has to go back to Canada for the funeral. We can’t meet but that’s OK; family always comes first.
Got back to the hotel to be told by the receptionist that my “wife” had arrived but that she had gone out – probably to the internet cafe. I found Sheree in the second one along the street (there are at least four by my count so far) giggling to herself.
We hit the town to have a quick orientation session and to pick up some batteries for Sheree’s camera. Dumped them back in the room then headed out to find the PM market.
We went the long way ’round. There were roadworks next to the market entrance, so we ended up going down a very dark dirt alleyway. If it hadn’t been for the constant stream of motorbikes coming along it would have been very slow, possibly dangerous and quite likely amusing progress. We emerged around the other side of the market – so there was no back entrance. We worked that part out!
The markets were pretty much concentrating on the souvenir industry. There was lots of everything, in large amounts. Most of it was looking beautiful too in the fading evening light. Sheree has a thing for shiny stuff, and who am I to disagree?
We ended up having dinner and some vigorous discussions ranging from post-modern philosophy through to bone-headed people we’d like to see burned at the stake. All of it was put through the filter of a few bottles of Angkor beer. We had green mango salad, which was quite spicy, as a starter, followed by fish amok – kind of a light curry – as well as fried morning glory.
We wandered and slightly staggered around the market for a while. I picked up some silk scarves which could be draped around the flat nicely. There were some children from an orphanage performing Khmer dance for a small group of onlookers. They all looked under ten years old and were so good! The music was being played by art teachers and some singing was being done by disabled kids from the orphanage. I threw a couple of dollars in the boxes provided, as did Sheree. At least that way that money would go directly to the orphanage and not channelled through some fund or other.
There were a couple of other musical groups around the market area. They were selling some instruments there but I couldn’t see a cheng at all. I’d ship one or two back to Japan if I could find them for sale! What an amazing sound. I’d gladly annoy the neighbours with that if I could.
After that it was back to the hotel via the shop to get more beer.
Woke up with the sun and got ready to hit the temples.
We were met out the front of the hotel by the same tuk-tuk driver who had been teasing me yesterday. He said, “I know you’re going to the temples today,” I guess the backpacks, walking shoes and camera gear gave it away a bit. He followed us to the Red Piano restaurant and waited for us to breakfast and wake up so we took his tuk-tuk to Bayon, our first stop on the tour.
We went to Bayon first, passing the main temple at Angkor Wat on the way. That would be our final stop for the day.
It was a great start to the temples of Angkor; huge main building, fallen rocks, exquisite carvings and groups of funny Japanese tourists going, “Eeeeeeeh?!?”
I lost Sheree at a couple of points but we managed to catch up outside so we could head off for a drink and a sit-down. No sooner had we found a place and parked our bums, we were assaulted by a couple of seller girls. One ten year-old had her sales pitch down perfectly. She would ask us to name our country and she would tell us the leader, the capital city and the population. We spent quite some time throwing all sorts of countries at her but it was remarkable how many she knew; even ones we didn’t! I bought a fridge magnet from her – she well and truly earned it! Sheree bought a bracelet from another seller.
Then we were off. The Terrace of Elephants and Phimeanakas were next. The heat and brightness of the noonday sun were beating down on us in full glory, but that didn’t matter too much. We had greater challenges in avoiding the touts and sellers as well as getting pictures without (too many) fellow tourists in them. Even though we turned down everyone who tried to sell us things, it was always taken well with often a smile or even laughter.
We decided to walk to Preah Khan which nearly did me in – with a pack on my back and still recovering from dragging a heavy suitcase around two days before, my back wasn’t really up to much. Young Sheree, the warrior princess, set quite a cracking pace…
We found a place to have lunch, which turned out to be just in front of the entrance to Preah Khan. We had Fried Ginger with Pork, Stir Fried Pineapple with Beef and lots of water! When they said ‘Stir Fried Ginger with Pork’, they weren’t kidding. It was pretty full on, but delicious at the same time.
Preah Khan was a lovely wander after the hike to get there. We had a guide show us a couple of recently opened and restored sections as well as one sacred reserve with a shrine set up to one of the images carved on the wall. Simply breathtaking.
From there I insisted we take a tuk-tuk to our next stop, the ruins at Ta Som.
Ta Som is basically only famous for having a tree growing over one of the stone archways. Yes, it was indeed beautiful. The rest of the complex was very similar to other ruins we’d already seen. I guess we were starting to suffer from temple overload already. Tuk-tuk to Ta Prohm which was also a large and beautiful temple complex. This one had heaps of huge trees growing over the ruins which were perhaps even more majestic than the one at Ta Som…
But finally, we ended up at the main temple complex at Angkor Wat, just as the day was beginning to wane into evening. It was a good time to visit as the main building was about to close and so there were hardly any people left inside by the time we made our way in. It meant we could appreciate the stillness and sublime power of the place just that little bit more. The sunset was a bit disappointing as there were so many clouds… but hey, we would be back in the morning to catch the Christmas Sunrise.
The driver then took us home the long way ’round after going down the wrong street. AH well – that was the fun end to the day. More beer, more good food.
Got up at 4:20am. Showered, tuk-tuk through the cool morning air to Angkor Wat along with half of the city.
Over the causeway in the darkness. Looming gateway – black on black. Some stars visible. Set up the camera and started shooting. The was a crescent moon but could we could make out the full sphere against the rapidly brightening sky – along with Jupiter(?) underneath.
Moved around a bit to get different views and angles. We listene to the sounds of excited Japanese girls and laughed at them. I tried to get some shots of reflections of the Wat in the lily pond – along with about a hundred people getting the same shot. The Japanese group in front of me wouldn’t move until they could sense me glaring at them. Big scary foreigner with a beard – who wouldn’t move!?
Sheree dropped her bag with her memory card with all her photos from Vietnam and yesterday in it somewhere so we had to look for it. Thankfully it was where she thought she’d dropped it; doofus.
Went back to the hotel, rested, breakfasted and guide-booked in preparation for the rest of the day. Phoned Mum and Stuart (plus Heidi) from the internet cafe. They were well and happy to hear from me – as I was to talk to them. Timed it well – between presents and lunch.
A quick rest then we were out the door and off to see Banteay Srei and Kbal Spean.
The tuk-tuk had to negotiate some dry and dusty stretches of dirt road so our hair, mouths and noses were filled with dust throughout the afternoon. We also came across a couple of water trucks dousing the dust so we got a couple of free showers into the deal!
Banteay Srei would have to be the highlight so far. The carvings were exquisite; highly detailed and well preserved despite the site falling into some disrepair. They were by far the deepest cut into the sandstone as well, taking on a three-dimensional appearance in the afternoon sun. Many close-ups were taken.
Kbal Spean involved the tuk-tuk going down a sandy track to get to the base camp which was a bit exciting as the trailer was fish-tailing all over the place. There was a 1.6km walk up the mountain to see the carvings which involved a fair bit of climbing so we were both rather sweaty and tired out by the time we got to the top. It was worth it though. The carvings exuded a deep mystery as the water swirled over and past them. The waterfall was lovely and I managed to shoot off enough pix before a middle-aged European gent stripped off to his Speedos and took a shower. Not a pretty sight. Bloody Europeans. The Cambodian guides were laughing at him – as were his friends.
The trip down was uneventful, thankfully. Sheree and I both have a disposition towards falling over in highly embarrassing and potentially injury-sustaining ways. I have rarely looked forward to lunch and a sit-down as much as this. We had chicken with lemongrass and chilli, beef and pineapple, followed by a banana pancake. All were wonderful after our effort.
On the way back we stopped off at a temple ruin to stretch our legs and attempt to flush out some of the dust from our mouths. It was possible to see Angkor Wat just barely in the distance as well as another temple. It was an interesting construction with the foundation consisting of the basalt blocks seen at most temple sites but the towers were built of free-standing brick, with the ornate doors and statues carved out of sandstone. There were some children out the back holding up a 2m long snakeskin they’d found for inspection, and for sale. The guards up the top offered me a beer – tempting but I didn’t fancy falling off as my reward for an early drink. They had hidden a cooler in one of the towers. If I had to stay up there all day I’d fancy a beer as well!
Limped into the hotel just after five, so it was time for a shower and then time to go out for some fine festive fare.
Went to the Temple Bar to see some dancing but got there 90 minutes before it started so hit the beer rather forcefully.
The dancers were great, but not as cute as the orphans in the market.
We somehow made it down the stairs and across the road to the Cambodian Barbecue. They had a special Christmas menu which had six kinds of meat; beef, kangaroo, crocodile, snake, ostrich and goat. The barbecue itself was an interesting contraption. It was a ceramic bowl filled with hot coals with a metal helmet on top with vents to allow the coals to breathe. It was crowned with a piece of sizzling fat while around the edge of this inverted bowl was a gutter which was filled with soup. Vegetables and noodles went in there while the meat was cooked on the top. It was kind of like a cross between yakiniku and nabe. It was served with rice and was followed by two slices of ice cream Christmas log.
After that we stopped by the convenience store was we limped out way back. On the way Sheree was attacked by a five year-old girl who hugged her and wouldn’t let go! I had to intervene – lifting the brazen attacker off and away from Sheree as she didn’t know what to do; she was so drunk! Safely in the store, she found a bottle of ‘Cass’, the South Korean beer she had lived on in Mongolia. It’s a terrible beer but it’s all they had to drink for two months. The taste brought back good memories, but only about two mouthfuls were needed for that. The rest of the bottle remained untouched.
That was quite a Christmas.
Had a sleep in. Very very sore legs and lower back this morning.
Ended up at the Papier De La Tigre after a cruise down Pub Street for breakfast. Somehow bread and jam and fruit alone wasn’t going to cut it. We did get our bread and jam but along with bacon, eggs, pancake and orange juice as well as some excellent coffee for a mere $3.50 each. Fantastic.
Dropped back at the hotel and while our driver from yesterday was there when we return, he’d got a job between then and when we came out five minutes later. He’d left his mate though so he drove us around for the day. It was a long first leg, from Siem Reap to the temple of Beng Melea.
The Lonely Planet describes this temple ruin as the “ultimate Indiana Jones experience” and they were absolutely right. We walked around the temple first, taking pictures of the giant trees that had sprouted amongst the fallen stones and remains of the outer wall and towers. Once we went inside we could navigate along a raised wooden walkway which allowed us to take heaps of great photos of the walls and ruined inner sanctuary, but it came to a dead end, but a female guide motioned us to come down if we wanted. It was a quick drop down to the floor below but she disappeared through a doorway so we followed her. Glad we did, she took us through some intact caverns with stone roofs that were collapsed or non-existant on a lot of other sites we’d been to, and that was the Indiana Jones thing we’d been hanging out for the whole time so far. We were alone – just the three of us gingerly making our way (well, me anyway) along the corridors and terraces. The atmosphere was cool and quiet inside. It was awesome.
Afterwards it was 2pm so we had some lunch at a restaurant outside the temple grounds; beef pineapple, Chicken (with bones!) and cauliflower with rice and washed down with some Angkor Beer – needed that beer!
It was a pretty long haul back to the Roulos Group of temples and the afternoon was starting to head into evening. The light in Cambodia is best in the morning and late afternoon; it starts to get a golden tinge to it and the sunsets are often magnificent.
By the time we arrived at Lolei, the first stop, the light was perfect. There was what what looked like a new Buddhist temple at the site and we had a short chat with some of the young novices who were hanging around.
It was a quick ride to the remaining temples at Preah Ko and Bakong. The ruins at Preah Ko were in pretty poor shape but the doorways had some beautiful Sanskrit script carved into them. Bakong was just huge and majestic with the sun setting behind it and the clouds forming some lovely patterns in the blue sky. There were three boys who were doing cartwheels and headstands; showing off for the foreign guests. They were as cute as buttons!
We made it to the top as the suns was heading for the horizon and despite my best attempts to trip over the uneven stones, we were able to take some great shots and make our way down again without incident.
On our way back to Siem Reap we were able to take in the full glory of the darkening sky after the sun had dipped below the horizon, as well as enjoy the sight of the people heading for home as well as going to the street markets and food stalls.
Angkor Stout is a magnificent drop. Thick and chocolatey, it is one of the best stouts I’ve ever had. It was also immensely refreshing to share a bottle after we’d made it back to the room and jumped through the shower to wash off the grime of another successful road trip.
Anchor Draft, however, is not. It’s an insipid, watery, bitter drink.
We ate at the Paper Tiger (in French) again so we could have the Khmer Pizza, which had cream, curry, onions, mushrooms and cheese on it. After we’d ordered we’d realised we’d forgotten to order the pizza! So in addition to that we also ate a wonderful soup which was made with pineapple, pork, onion, coconut milk and red chilli paste – which was divine – and fried lotus root with pork – which was rather bland in contrast to the vibrant soup.
A short stagger back to the room via the convenience store; more beer, peanuts, toothpaste and a Magnum. The ice cream was wonderful after about a year since my last one. Watched some Harvey Birdman and started a movie but Sheree fell asleep so it was time for sleepy bo-boes.
Got up at around 8am – lower back in quite some stiffness and pain after the pounding exercise of the past few days.
After breakfast, which had been enhanced by a very decent ham and cheese omelette, we went for a wander around the Old Market, taking in the sights and sounds of the locals doing their food shopping, but also doing some souvenir shopping. I ended up with a silk bedspread which would be ideal for summer, as well as a couple of silk tablecloths. If I’m going to have a kitchen table covered in my junk, it’s going to be first covered with one of these lovely things…. then covered in my junk again.
While Sheree checked her e-mail and caught up on writing, I had a massage at the Seeing Hands 4; the blind massage place. As I walked in I could make out that out of the dozen or so people milling about, only maybe one of them could see at all. One of the women there took my arm and led me off. As she touched my arm she immediately got a sense of my size and let out a shout of surprise and told everyone else that she had a walking tree alongside her. I was led into the rooms and asked to change into a pale blue jumpsuit, which only *just* fit – thanks to where the seams had come apart along one side. My masseuse was male, with strong hands and a good work ethic. I was pummelled nicely for an hour, to the tune of a mere five dollars. While I started out as the sole customer, I was joined by a couple of lady customers and as I was leaving another one was making her way along the alleyway. As we passed I couldn’t help but smile at her, as a way of letting her know she was in for a great hour.
By then it was the early afternoon so we thought we should head off to Chong Kneas if we were to go to see the flooded forest at Kompong Phhluk. Our friendly tuk-tuk driver from yesterday was waiting for us (or anyone else, let’s face it) but we were a dead cert. The road between Siem Reap and Chong Kneas was lined with shops and residences as it followed the Siem Reap River, but as it opened into the marshland before the lake, the colours changed from dust-covered greens and brown to the brilliant fresh light green of growing rice. The shops lining the roadside also changed. Gone were the mom and pop stores and in came large-decked restaurants cum karaoke bars. Each one could have comfortably housed a hundred or so revellers. They extended from the roadside over the swamp on stilts, so would have quite a view during the rainy season, when feasably the lake had overflowed its banks.
Soon we came to the first of two checking stations. We had to purchase our tickets here. They guy said that we were too late to see Kompng Phhluk anyway so we’d have to come back tomorrow. For reference I asked the price and he said for the two of us it would cost $90. Our guides had said anything between 30 to 45 so after we’d picked up collective jaws from the ground we decided that for $20 the boat trip around Chong Kneas would suffice.
We were dropped off at the lakeside where a boat driver met us and took us out. He motioned for us to come up to the front since we were the only people on board. He was a bit of a lad and his good humour was in much need as we passed the various boat houses of various shapes and sizes, and in various stages of disrepair. Some interesting tidbits… The population of the floating village could be divided into three groups; Cambodians, Vietnamese and Muslims. The Cambodians got most of the plum jobs such as tour guides whereas the Vietnamese got most of the seasonal jobs, such as fishing. The Muslims seemed to fulfill a lot of the service and supply jobs, such as charging the huge batteries that the people used for electric power. Many people were using powered craft, but we passed many people using oars and paddles as well.
Our driver asked us if we would like a party on the boat since we were the only ones there today, so how could we say no to that? While we had a look around the touristy portion of the tour; a pontoon that had a catfish and crocodile farm, he went and bought some beers and cooked shrimp. The farms were OK but the enjoyable part came from a boat of monks that pulled up alongside while we were there. Sheree has a thing for monks. Also inside a girl was holding a snake that we could touch.
Before too long we weighed anchor and headed out onto the lake a little way. We sat on the bow and ate our shrimp that we peeled and dipped into a combination of ground black pepper and fresh lime juice which was delicious. We also consumed our ABC Stout with gusto; another excellent local stout. At 8% we didn’t need too much to get happy.
On the way back we were kind-of strong-armed into buying some over-priced stationery from a floating store, then went to a Vietnamese school on the water to distribute them to the kids. We interrupted a class and the kids didn’t really seem that excited to receive the gifts as our driver had led us to believe. As Sheree noted they probably get heaps of tour groups per day that interrupt their classes. We had a long, slightly alcohol-influenced discussion on the way back to the port concerning the ethics and morals of tourism and aid.
After we got back it was time to add to the beer in our bellies with some more beer. Now feeling very happy we hot Pub Street for some Mexican from the aptly named “Viva”. We started off with a frozen margherita for $1 each followed by some excellent burritos.
After that it was off for some Night Market action and we got to see the cute kids dancing again. I picked up another silk bedspread so I think I’m going to some some fun at the airport with the weight of the suitcase. Sheree cleaned up though with a whole range of stuff including a “trou” – the kind of Chinese style violin that all of the Khmer music groups we’ve seen use a lot. I think I’d like one as well but as I proved back in the hotel room, I haven’t got a hope of making it sound any better than a cat being tortured.
Got up pretty late and went for a walk around the Central Markets after our Khmer-style brunch. Sheree bought another couple of things but I must confess to a bit of market burnout since every shop sells exactly the same thing. That ‘Same Same but Different’ t-shirt certainly rings true. In one shop we saw cardboard boxes piled full of the beaten silver bracelets that are usually laid out like individually crafted artifacts in glass cases in other shops. Even after discounting and bargaining we’re still paying too much – even though they’re so cheap.
On the way back we stopped off at the bookshop where Sheree picked up a book on the Khmer Rouge (quite an effort since there are so many on offer) while I picked up a CD of what I hope is a collection of Cambodian pop music. It was worth picking up just for the song titles alone. After that it was time to pick up some beer at the convenience store. After I came out Sheree was talking to a local. He had her copy of the Khmer Rouge book in his hands and Sheree was nodding a lot and agreeing with him so I thought he might have been explaining his own experiences under the iron fist of Pol Pot. After we left him Sheree gave me that look that suggested this was not the case. Apparently he had been saying that he liked Pol Pot since he came from a poor area like Pot and that Pot had been about ‘sticking it to the rich’ in Cambodia…… errrrmmmm….. that whole thing about millions dying? Sheree had agreed with everything he said out of self-preservation while waiting for me to finish up.
After some time back at the hotel relaxing, catching up on journals and doing some packing and repacking.
We went for a walk along the river and had a look inside the temple beside it. We then had a late lunch at Ecstatic Pizza. I had a “Green Eggs and Ham”, which had spinach for the green, plus egg and bacon. With some pepperoni it was very good indeed. Sheree went for the “Meltdown” which had 4 kinds of cheese – which was also very good. With a beer it all went down very well indeed. After that we went back to the room and then went our separate ways for dinner.
I had a hankering to see the North Korean restaurant and enjoy the floorshow there, as well as some good Korean food. I took a tuk-tuk out there but unfortunately it was closed; there wasn’t any sign of life at all. Oh well. We went back into town and I got my fill at “Burgers Without Borders” instead. Just after I’d ordered a group of Americans came in; eight of whom were under the age of twenty. I ate in a hurry, to say the least. Across the alleyway there was another restaurant which had a prison theme, including security guard and Cambodian flags as decoration. I hope the Cambodians have a very well developed sense of irony or just a very black sense of humour. If that is the case then they rival the Finns for the blackest sense of humour in the world…
Back to the room one more time. Then off to the night markets for one more spin. I bought a few packets of Amok spice so I can attempt to have some taste of Cambodia back in Japan. Sourcing some of the other ingredients will be a bit of a challenge, but what the hey. It was also one final chance to drink in the sights, sounds and smells of Cambodia at night. It’s a wonderful, crazy and fun place to be.
Got up pretty early, but it was the adrenaline pumping; nearly time to travel again – and I hadn’t really packed anything…. just thrown my stuff into the suitcase.
We shunned the free breakfast and had breakfast at the Khmer place just down the street from the hotel. Both our favourite tuk-tuk drivers were out touting for business. I had a bacon and eggs combo while Sheree went for Thai omelettes which were quite spicy. I had their coffee which turned out to be Vietnamese in style; thick, treacley, chocolatey and thoroughly delicious.
Back to the internet cafe for one last go there but the power cut out after about twenty minutes or so, so we hoofed it back to the room to finish packing. I managed to get everything I’d brought plus the stuff I’d bought into the case (turned out it weighed 24.2kg at the airport) and closed it OK so that was a good thing.
We hung out and chatted as we waited for time to pass and the power to return. Eventually the fan turned on again and I changed and got ready to go. The taxi ride was pretty uneventful, but it was my first chance to see the road from the airport in the daylight. I was surprised at the number of fields that bordered the road instead of the plethora of hotels I thought there was on the way in – although closer to town the hotels were certainly in abundance.
At check-in I naturally chose the line with the slow couple with the baby ahead of me, then it turned out I was in the wrong line anyway. Meh. We hung out in the entrance lobby since Sheree wouldn’t be able to check in until after I’d gone. We said our goodbyes and almost as soon as I’d crossed through passport control – which had one sleeping inspector, and one awake – the call came over for my flight to start boarding.
It was a turbo-prop aircraft – something I haven’t flown in since I was quite young. It certainly was a bit bumpy on takeoff, but thankfully the flight was smooth as was the landing. I grabbed some woefully expensive pho in the departure lounge since I had a few hours to spare before the flight to Hong Kong.
The plane was from Cathay Pacific, so already things were looking up. I got a seat with the toilet behind me so I could lean the seat back without worrying about anyone behind me. I like that. Some people say that the noise from the toilet is distracting, but I say stick in your earphones and bring an iPod – or just listen to the screaming children instead; of which there were plenty on this flight. Thankfully they were mostly screams of delight.
Touched down in HK and had no trouble collecting the bag and making my way to the bus stop, but had to deal with various taxi touts. If I’m looking at a map of where the busses are going, do you think I really need a taxi!?
I had to wait about 20 minutes for an Airbus, but I was at the front of the queue so I had no trouble finding a spot for my suitcase or a good seat. The road into the city was raised quite high at times so I could catch a glimpse of the city at night with its towering apartment blocks and millions of lights. I think I’m going to enjoy this. For HK$40 (about 500 yen) it was a great way to get into the city.
I decided to take a taxi to the hotel instead of wandering the empty streets in the drizzle. The driver had trouble finding the road even though it was about two streets down from the station!
Check in was no problem and so it was upstairs to find the room and then go to bed. The Mingle On The Wing is billed as an executive hotel so it’s really compact. I booked a room with a double bed, but you’d have to be really comfortable as a couple to enjoy using it. There’s no room for one suitcase, let alone two. Overnight bags or carry-on only would probably just be OK. The bathroom had two shower heads to choose from; rain or jet types. The LCD TV mostly had business news channels plus FOX (shudder) and no BBC. There was a DVD player, surround sound system and buttons to control the lighting scheme. The key was a smart card. Free wireless internet too. The bed was a bit short but it was solid and comfortable. All in all not a bad effort for being the middle of Hong Kong Island.
Woke up after a good sleep-in – maybe about 10 or so. Read the internet news then slowly got my act together. It was a drizzly day, but that wasn’t going to stop me.
I followed my Lonely Planet’s recommendation and followed the walk around Shueng Wan for a nice two-hour stroll. There were heaps of dried seafood shops in the same street as my hotel, so that was an interesting and possibly delicious-looking start to the walk.
I had lunch at the Leung Hing Chiu Chow Seafood Restaurant. It was a local institution, with yours truly the only non-Chinese speaker in the house for the duration. I took that as a good sign, and I wasn’t disappointed by the spread; Marinated Goose Meat with Bean Curd, Spring Vegetable and Pork Casserole along with Chiu Chow’s signature Fried Rice. It was enough to feed two, but when served with some delicious tea, I made my way through the best I could. What a wonderful introduction to the world of Chinese cookery.
I wandered up the hill to have a look at a couple of temples which, while some of the oldest in Hong Kong’s history, were nestled inside modern-ish buildings. It was interesting to have a brief look inside the locals’ life though, as people came and went from these temples at a regular pace. The smoke from the incense wafted gently down the alleyway and mingled with the fresh rain smell from the drizzle.
I ended up spending some time around the Hollywood Road precinct, browsing through the antique and curio shops. I had a chat with one of the dealers and he explained some of the finer points of how to spot a fake, as well as which statues to buy to give my abode good feng shui. His rather expensive statues would have to wait some other time. There was just about everything you could imagine for sale from the various stalls and shops; from Bruce Lee playing cards to World War Two era money, from Chairman Mao watches to antique photographs, from chandeliers to plastic toys. I’ll be back on my last day to have a look and spend whatever I have left!
After a brief stop back at the hotel, it was off for another wander around the streets of Shueng Wan. I really wanted to get my bearings as I’m finding the lack of reference points a bit confusing at times. Every building is tall and skinny – really helpful. There ARE a lot of street signs around, thankfully, but I don’t want to have to get out my Lonely Planet every time I come to an intersection. I ended up ordering a stone hanko (don’t know what they’re called in Cantonese) from a street stall near the hotel.
I started to get a little peckish so I asked the hotel receptionist for the location of a good yum-cha place to eat. Of course I’d forgotten that yum-cha is a brunch thing in Hong Kong, so went to the place she recommended to find that they weren’t doing yum-cha! Instead I found a Singaporean restaurant, named Katong Laksa, that served laksa, so I had that instead, along with some satay. It was my first laksa since a year ago in Adelaide. It was a lovely bowl of noodles, rich in flavour but not very spicy at all. The satay wasn’t too hot either, but spine-tinglingly delicious. Served with a fresh lime soda, they went together beautifully. Hong Kong has not been a disappointment at all so far.
After a short wander it was back to the hotel room and dressed for bed – before 8pm!! It’s going to be a busy and long day tomorrow, so a good sleep shouldn’t be a bad thing.
Got up early to go and meet Emily, an internet friend, to find that my phone was dead – irretrievably dead. Crap.
Went to the street where we’d planned to meet anyway to see if she was there. I got there early and walked around until after 10:30 – we’d planned to meet at 10. No sign of her. Great.
Tried to find an internet cafe so I could call her but the one in the Lonely Planet printed in 2008 was nowhere to be seen. Whoopie.
Got some directions to another to find that a) all the seats were full and b) I was basically back at my hotel by now. What a morning; exhausted and done nothing much except wander the streets looking for someone.
I picked up my hanko on the way back to the hotel and tried to call Emily. Eventually I got through, said my apologies which she graciously accepted, and arranged to meet outside my hotel.
She arrived about 20 minutes later and we went to the Treasure House Seafood Restaurant for a dim sum lunch. I have to admit that finding a local person to show you around is a great way to see a new city – especially when that person is also friendly and helpful as well. Emily also came in very handy during those all-important bargaining sessions when souvenir shopping. Part of her job involves travelling and purchasing in China, so she’s had a lot of practice at it!
She chose a few things for us to eat and I just went along for the gastronomical ride. Everything tasted good, and when it was washed down with prestigious amounts of good hot tea, it was a lunch of champions.
From there we went around Hong Kong Island, taking in Causeway Bay and catching a mini-bus to Stanley, which was a really lovely seaside area. The bus was haring around the corners a bit so the faint of stomach would have found it a bit too much. As it was I was *just* OK. There was a street market there, of course, so we ended up buying some stuff there. We also had a look around the seaside area. There were some old columns from the previous settlement which had been saved as the area was being redeveloped. That’s quite an odd thing for Hong Kong, I gathered, as there were very few ‘old’ buildings around.
From there we took another bus back to Central then caught the ferry across to Tism Sha Tsui. We grabbed some American food at a restaurant and washed it down with a bottle of Aussie red wine. Nothing like that to get the evening started right! From there we found a spot to watch the 8pm light show, which was pretty good. We were lucky to find anywhere as the place was swarming with New Years Eve revellers.
We followed the crowd to the waterfront where we set up camp to wait for the three hours or so until midnight. I managed to get involved in a card game with some other Chinese girls with Emily coaching me how to play. We switched to another which was just like a Japanese game I’ve played, so that was easier to handle. The crowd then stood up and rushed to the waterline so we lost the girls in the crush, but it was a great way to wile away an hour or so.
Midnight came and passed with the countdown on the IFC2 tower and fireworks sprouting from there and eight other towers along the Hong Kong Island shore. It went for a bout twenty minutes altogether which was a great way to welcome on the new year. The crowd was in a really good vibe, with people singing and jumping about as we started to make our way towards the trains. We could see people dancing and clowning around in the windows of the hotels overlooking the road in front of the waterfront. It took about an hour or so to finally worm our way past all the police and crowd control barriers and get a train back to Shueng Wan. Without my trusty guide it would have taken so much longer!
My objective for today was to see Victoria Peak since we’d done a great job of messing that up the day before. We did some tramping around Mong Kok and the markets there, as well as Central and Wan Chai since they are the places people go to when they visit HK.
By the time we made it to where the tram stop to go up the mountain was, about a third of Hong Kong had also had the same wonderful idea, so there was a huge line to catch the tram. No way. It was taxi time instead, so we jumped in the first available cab and made our way up the road that snakes its way up Victoria Peak. It took along time to go up that way as well, but we were able to catch the sun setting over Aberdeen and Stanley, which was lovely to behold.
Up the top we were able to enjoy the sunset, but also watch the lights come out over the city. It’s something else… a world away from where I’d been just a few days before, watching the sun set over ancient temples at Angkor, but still dazzlingly beautiful.
More great Chinese food for dinner, followed by a walk around the nightclub area of Central and Soho. There were a few people out, but considering it was the night after New Years, I guess most of the partygoers were still nursing hangovers!
Back up the hill after posting a package to myself at the post office. I stocked up on cheap souvenirs and some knick knacks for myself, then it was time to grab the suitcase and catch the bus to the airport. Emily dropped me off because she could, as well as the airport having a train that goes back to her place in the New Territories. She was a great help to show me around. I suggested she do that for a business and she laughed. She’s busy enough as it is with her work. It was great that she could take the time off.
Check in went well and so did the passport check. I stocked up on duty-free alcohol for the ride home and boarded the plane. I was able to take in a movie (Wall-E, which was OK) and rest up a bit before the plane plunged towards Kansai International Airport. I made it out and the final bus to Himeji was still there! It was five minutes late so I just made it! Woo hoo! And here I was dreading the trains back. THAT was the final cherry on top of a most wonderful holiday.