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Highlights of Cambodia

After a relaxing time on Phi Phi Island I arrived in Bangkok ready to start my next adventure; a 40 day Intrepid Tour starting in Cambodia for 12 days. Rather than bore you with a day by day account of my trip I am going to just write the highlights, and if you ever have questions about transport modes, general costs, accommodation or anything else you can drop me an email and I’d be more than happy to help.

Source: intrepidtravel.com

A map of my itinerary in Cambodia

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap

You can’t really visit Cambodia without taking the time to go to Angkor Wat, which is the central feature of the UNESCO World Heritage Site containing many amazing temples and remains.

We decided that seeing the sunrise over the temple was something not to be missed, and woke at 4am in darkness with spots of rain. Not to be deterred we lined up to get our temple passes and wondered aimlessly in the dark with minimal torches (who is organised at that time of morning?!) until we found a huge group of people vying for the perfect spot for the sunrise. Of course we joined the masses, but found a nice spot along the side of the lake where there weren’t too many people. It was quite nice just sitting around waiting for the sun to rise and there are coffee stands if you need a caffeine hit like I do at that time of the morning. There are well-trained local children selling postcards and other knick-knacks which is really quite sad. They can lay the guilt on quite well, with stories that they can’t go to school unless they sell a certain amount. Needless to say, we succumbed and bought some postcards but have since learnt that this only drives parents keeping the children out of school which of course was not our aim.

Finally, when the sun did rise, the haze of the morning and lack of cloud made for an uninspiring sunrise. Notwithstanding though, it was nice to be there so early to enjoy the serenity before the large tour buses came later in the morning as most of the people there to see the sunrise seemed to disappear with the lack of a decent photo so we had the place mostly to ourselves for a while.

Angkor Wat at sunrise

Angkor Wat at sunrise

The Angkor area is so large and full of so many ruins that avid temple goers spend at least a week there exploring. Most other tourists spend one to two days. We did a full day of temples with a guide, which I thoroughly recommend. It is easy to look through the temples and find that eventually they all look the same; a guide is able to give you some background and all guides in the area are accredited through the government so you know you are getting your money’s worth.

Ancient carvings in Angkor Wat

Ancient carvings in Angkor Wat

One of the aspects that I enjoyed was that locals still frequent the temples. Monks are a common sight as are Cambodian Buddhists who come to pray. It is nice to see that the temples still are such a significant part of day to day life in Cambodia.

Young monks in training at Angkor Wat

Young monks in training at Angkor Wat

Most of the temples are a fair distance from each other, and not able to be done on foot. I would recommend hiring Tuk Tuk’s, motorbikes or private cars to get around.

We visited three large temples – Angkor Wat, Bayon Temple – the temple of the Smiling Buddha’s, one of the most unique religious buildings in the world and Ta Phrom – the temple that Tomb Raider was filmed in. It is a full on day and we were exhausted by the end of it, but it was well worth the early wake up call and struggling through the extreme heat.

Ta Phrom - location of Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie

Ta Phrom – location of Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie

On a side note, Siem Reap is a tiny town but has a very touristy central with the main street being “Pub Street”. We enjoyed dancing at Angkor What?! bar until the early hours.

The Cambodian Children (Kampong Cham)

Sometimes when you start travelling, it takes a while to have a realisaton moment that you are in fact in that location, somewhere completely different from home. My moment and my favourite memory in Cambodia was when hiring a bicycle in Kampong Chang, venturing to an island across the Bamboo Bridge and riding through the villages until our hearts were content. Why was this such a highlight? Not being such a main thoroughfare for tourists the villages were authentic and the children would run out of their houses to welcome us and some even joined us on their bikes. Their smiling faces and willingness to communicate with us was something we didn’t encounter anywhere else.

The Bamboo Bridge, rebuilt after every wet season

The Bamboo Bridge, rebuilt after every wet season

We were lucky enough to witness a local wedding, a cock fight, local food being cooked and tobacco growing to name a few, whilst cycling around.

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Relaxing at Sihanoukville

Sihanoukville is a beach town through and through. Extremely touristic with beach bars/ restaurants lining the beach backed by the main street of town. The beach is filled with umbrellas or large cane chairs that you can relax on if you have ordered from the respective restaurant. While dining or lounging many touts will approach you with bracelets, clothes, offers of massages or manicures and pedicures. Despite this, or because of it, I quite enjoyed the chance to stay here for two nights and unwind and constant travelling can be draining.

While we enjoyed being pampered and drinking ourselves silly we also had a very memorable island day trip which can be organised by any tour operator for about 15 USD, including lunch and snorkelling.

The beach from our island day trip. Pure bliss.

The beach from our island day trip. Pure bliss.

The Killing Fields, Phnom Penh

Unfortunately, I was unwell with Cambodia-Belly the day I was supposed to go to the Killing Fields and could not move from my hotel room. My friends who went said that although it was tear-inducing, it was also a must-see and very educational. This is on my list for next time I visit Cambodia and should not be something you miss if in the area.

Homestay in Cham Bok Village

One of the wonderful things about Intrepid tours (I’m a big fan of them if you haven’t noticed) is that you do get opportunities to do things that may not come across your path if you were travelling without an arranged tour, such as home-stays, dinners at local Cambodian’s houses and other things that may not be advertised.

We spent a night in the local village of Cham Bok. This village often has home-stays with various groups and shares the responsibilities for doing so, such as housing, cooking and entertaining is shared around the village. Tourism is a big part of the village’s economy and it would struggle without the visitors.

Our local host family sorting the rice

Our local host family sorting the rice

We enjoyed watching the host family doing their daily chores, settling in, having a delcious group dinner followed by a performance by the local dance school and a trek to a waterfall the following day. All in all a memorable and pleasant experience.

Our accommodation (may not be to everyone's standard!)

Our accommodation (may not be to everyone’s standard!)

The waterfall - a welcome site after an extremely hot, but not too long hike.

The waterfall – a welcome sight after an extremely hot, but not too long hike.

Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world and at times the poverty may be confronting in the form of young children selling goods or old women lying on the side of a street with their children begging for money.  The country also does not have an established rubbish-removal system and litter is excessive in some areas. This is all outweighed by smiling faces, an interesting culture, delicious food and relatively un-touched wilderness with suitable activities to suit every traveler  With so much on offer and the low-cost of visiting this country (meals are easy to obtain for less than 2 USD.) there really is no reason not to book a trip.

Click here if you would like to see a detailed itinerary of my 40 day trip, including costs and availability.

– Wish you were here xx

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From Phi Phi Island, with love x

It’s not often that you find a place that looks better than the postcards but that is how I feel about the Phi Phi islands. As the ferry arrived in Tonsai I was blown away by the clear, turquoise water and the limestone cliff face that defines Phi Phi’s profile against a bright blue sky.

The famous isthmus of the stunning Phi Phi Don

The area “Phi Phi” that most tourists refer to actually relates to two islands: Phi Phi Don; being the area for accommodation, restaurants, nightlife, and nightly beach activities, and Phi Phi Ley which includes Maya Bay, made famous by the 1999 Leonardo Di Caprio movie, “The Beach”.

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Most of Phi Phi is road-less with the main form of transport being by foot or by long-boats. Tonsai, where the ferry docks, is the main activity centre where you follow narrow pathways lined with shops, market stalls, tourist information, bars and restaurants. If you take an unexpected turn you will end up on the sanded paths which are frequented moreso by the 20,000 island locals and offer ‘real’ Thai cuisine and half the price than those restaurants in the main thoroughfare. The cuisine is offered in shack-like structures with no so-called walls that just adds to the authenticity. Luckily, this part of the island is an isthmus so if you take a wrong turn it isn’t hard to navigate back to one of the two parallel beaches – Tonsai Bay and Lo Da Lum Bay (the party beach).

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People come to the Phi Phi islands to either relax and “get away from it all” in beautiful scenery or (and probably the most common reason) to enjoy the crazy nightly life including infamous beach parties with fire games and bars that are full to capacity spilling onto the narrow paved pathways. Unfortunately sometimes these parties give Phi Phi a bad name as it is difficult to escape this noise and those not aware of this reputation are often disappointed that their quiet getaway is interrupted until 3am most mornings with pumping music.

I was one of those people who went to Phi Phi to relax in a bungalow and spend my days lounging by the beach with a bit of partying thrown in. Unfortunately because I told the booking agents that I wanted somewhere quiet they booked me in at a very remote resort which at night the only access was via long-tail boat which could cost up to 1,000 Baht and was unsafe. Needless to say I never went to the beach parties but did have a few nights of drinking at the resort bar.

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I stayed at Power Beach Resort which is poorly rated on TripAdvisor but if you go in not expecting the best you will be pleasantly surprised. Originally I booked a fan bungalow but when the porter led me up a ridiculously steep set of uneven stairs high into the jungle which had gaps in the floor boards and no safe deposit box and an interesting smell I upgraded to an air-conditioned room which was much nicer and a lot closer to the beach although a lot more expensive at 2,500 Baht a night. As far as I was concerned it was money well spent. Each of the rooms had a veranda with a nice lounging chair to relax on. What the rooms lacked, the staff made up for – they introduced me to the Thai friendliness and looked after me well. When I cut my foot on coral the manager bathed in daily for me. The dining area has a relaxed feel about it and I made multiple friends there or laying on the beach chairs. A couple of days into the stay I ventured next door to Relax Beach Resort which when compared to my resort looked and felt like a 5 star resort despite not having electricity during the day and only fan bungalows. I spent most of my remaining time here as the food was much nicer than that on offer at Power Beach. Unfortunately this resort is usually booked out at least a month in advance so I wasn’t able to move over, however, I really enjoyed my stay at Power Beach and would recommend anyone to stay there (in an air-conditioned room only!) and spend days at Relax Beach Resort.

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I went on an amazing tour organised by Relax Beach which is a must-do. There are hundreds of versions of this trip offered on the island with the main difference being whether you go on a long tail boat or a speed boat. It stops at a number of stops on Phi Phi Don, Phi Phi Lay, Bamboo and Mosquito Islands. The scenery is postcard-like but due to the popularity of this tour expect hoards of tourist at every stop which takes away some of the magic. Particularly at Maya Bay which is the famous bay from the movie The Beach. An evening tour to Maya Bay was highly recommended to me as you can enjoy this stunning location without the beach being littered with people and boats. My tour cost 1,200 Baht which included lunch and a lot of entertainment. One of our long tail boats broke down (this is a common occurrence on the island) so it was decided to tie two boats together long ways to power it with one engine. Unfortunately, one boat was heavier and water poured into the other drenching everyone. At this point, the drivers decided it was best to tow the broken down boat and tried to untie the ropes in the middle of nowhere while still moving forward. He untied the front rope but let go of the rope as the two boats pulled away from each other. They were still connected by a rope at the back, and as they were pulling away from being parallel to in a straight line at quite a speed they couldn’t separate and both boats were dangerously close to tipping over until the rope snapped in the nick of time. Just thinking about everyone’s valuables that they had with them on the boat still makes me nervous.

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I also spent a lot of time hiking to the viewpoints which in the humidity was quite tough but worth it with spectacular views. It is also popular to hike at sunset but again if you are in a remote area it is quite difficult to access and to walk from our side of the island is very dangerous as there have been stories of robberies and vicious monkeys. I had one run in with monkeys up there but luckily I wasn’t their target – they ferociously ran at an American with food in his hand and ran off with it when one of the locals started using her sling shot on them, not before the other monkeys in the trees started throwing nuts at us. Always an entertaining experience.

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The best thing about Phi Phi is the people – both the locals and those staying at the two resorts I visited. It was easy to find a beach buddy or drinking buddy alike. Now, a couple weeks on I look back and can’t wait  to have another relaxing beach resort experience just like this one!

– Wish you were here xx

Categories: Thailand, Travel Diary, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Phi Phi in Pictures


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