Monday, January 21, 2008

Cambodia trip

7N8D Trip to Cambodia (1st April to 8th April 06)

This is my first post and I would like to start by sharing a trip I took last April with a group of friends. There were 6 of us together with my wife on this self organized trip. Though the timing was not right, (April being the hottest time of the year) there was no rain to spoil the trip. Day time temperature in Cambodia soars above 37 C and we get exhausted and dehydrated fast. Our 7 days in Cambodia cover Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor, and Phnom Penh, the capital. First 3 nights at Siem Reap, then bus to Phnom Penh for 2 nights and back to Siem Reap for last night. Should have saved one night and took the direct flight out of Phnom Penh.
Siem Reap
Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor Archeological Complex is a small blooming town with lots of hotels and guest houses to cope with increasing visitors. The small little airport is just 6 KM from town. Cambodia has 3 seasons weather, the cool and dry from October to January, hot and dry from Feb to May and hot and wet from Jun to September. Angkor Archeological Complex is a huge site of a ruin city and temples. A truly magnificent wonder of the world and an UNESCO Heritage Site. The entrance fee to Angkor though expensive (US$20 for single day pass. US$40 for a 3 days pass and US$60 for a week pass) is worth the money spent. We opted for the 3 days pass and that is the minimum to me. You’ll be cheating yourself and done no justice for the trip if it’s just a single day visit to this site. Angkor Wat, the biggest temple ruin is well restored and maintained. The panoramic view during sunrise and sunset is simply spectacular. No wonder it attracts so many visitors every day. The Bayon inside Angkor Thom is another magnificent site. Other must see spectacular sites include Baphoun, Elephant Terrace, Thommanon, Ta Keo, Banteay Kdei, Preah Khan, East Mebon, Ta Phrom, Banteay Srei, Ta Som, Neak Pean and Phnom Bakheng. The best way to explore this vast site is either by Tuk-tuk (motorized trishaw) or hired van.

Another worth while place to visit is Tonle Sap, the biggest inland fresh water lake in South East Asia. Though it’s dry season and water level is low, the boat cruise on Tonle Sap is still rewarding. The sight of Vietnamese refugee life on floating villages in this lake is intriguing and unforgettable. The reflections on the water, the color of the sky and distant sun set makes a perfect picture.

Group in front of Phnom Bakheng.
Angkor Thom South Gate

Ruins of Bantey Kdei.

Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia is now a busy town but still bears the horror images of Pol Pot’s reign of terror. I guess it will take many more years to recover from the damage done by this mad man and his ruthless army. Nearly half of the seven million people in Cambodia were tortured and brutally executed during his 4 years in power for reasons that is still unknown today. The Toul Sleng Genocide museum and the Cheoung Ek Killing Field are very eerie places and one must be mentally prepared before visiting. Other places of interest in Phnom Penh are the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda, Russian Market and National museum. The best way to visit all these places is take a day trip package with guide. It’s relatively cheap at US$6.00 per person and readily available at the Capitol Guest House.

Killing Field.

Lodging in Cambodia is not an issue. There are plenty of Hotels and Guest Houses to suit all kinds of visitors. Dormitory bed from US$1.00 to 5 star hotel suites more than US$1000.00 per night is available. Our first 3 nights is at Red Lodge Guest House, a highly recommended place by friends who has visited Siem Reap. For US$12.00 per night for an air cond double bed room, I rated this place a 5 out of scale of 10. Pros are coffee / tea, bread and some fruits on the house whole day, relatively clean and close proximity to market and town. The cons are room is hot, the old air cond takes ages to cool down the room, water pressure low and that makes cooling off with a shower is not possible, and got a couple of cockerels next door waking you up at 4.30 every morning.

Our 2 nights at Phnom Penh is at Hoong Pien Guest House, same owner as Capitol Guest House. At US$10.00 per night for an air cond double bed room, I rated this place 6, slightly better than Red Lodge. At least the room is bigger, air cond cooler but still not up to my expectation, water pressure is good, has got a small 14 inch color TV, and much quiet. The cons are my room is on the 3rd floor with no elevator and 3 fleet of long steep staircase, window with no view – just a plane un-plaster wall of next building, and has no save fire escape route.

Last 1 night before departing was at Tasom Guest House. Original plan was to stay some where on the east side of the river around Wat Bo but was taken to Tasom by the same bus owner, Capitol. At also US$10.00 per night for an air cond double bed room, I rated this 6.5 the best among the 3 Guest House we stayed. It has the pros of the above 2 guest houses and the air cond is cool. The only cons is the toilet is a bit small and toilet wall partition is not full height to ceiling. All 3 guest houses’ water supply is yellowish in color and has a distinct foul odor of organic decay in stagnant water. Obviously it’s not safe to drink.
Tasom Guesthouse

Cambodia food is very much like the Thai food minus the chili. A lot of coconut milk and spices are use in their cooking. Amok is a non hot green curry in coconut milk, a favorite and famous Cambodia food. It can cook with fish, chicken or pork. Palm sugar made from Sea Coconut palm, is sold as candies. The variety and quality of food in Siem Reap is much better but more expensive than Phnom Penh. The cost of living in Siem Reap is also higher than the capital Phnom Penh, mainly due to the higher number of foreigners. There are also the exotic delicacies for the more adventure gourmet eater. Duck egg embryo, preserved animal internal organs, deep fried inserts and retiles are sold on the side walks and market places. Surprisingly the deep fried inserts taste good and goes very well with beer.
Deep fried cicadas

Cambodia has a population of about 12 million and 95% are Buddhist. Physical feature of Cambodian is like the Thai, even the language also sounds alike. The country is still very poor and is now on the road to recovery from the civil war. Life is simple, very basic with bare necessity. Most residences don’t have the basic electricity and pipe in water. Many are in the poverty class and are concentrated in town areas. From my observation, those living in Siem Reap are much better than Phnom Penh mainly because of the revenue generated from tourist visiting Angkor.

Young Apsara dancer

Despite having Angkor Archeological Complex, a world heritage site and wonder of the world, I wouldn’t make a second trip to this place. Once is good enough for me. I couldn’t deny that this trip is a good experience and worth every cents. I would even recommend it to my friend. I felt very lucky and fortunate to be a Malaysian after this trip. The only regret I have in this trip is not able to see the Apsara cultural dance that comes together with the buffet dinner for US$12.00 per person. I should have used my influence power on the group.

The End.
Tonle Sap


No comments: