Once again one of my posts got lost in cyberspace.... so i'll just have to make a single super gigantic one summing up everything I did this week... sorry!
Kampot --> Koh Sdach
Last you heard from me i was in Kampot, getting ready to go back to Koh Sdach for Sofia's birthday. The trip was nothing special, just the usual minibus... but it was nice to recognize some of the faces from the island. On one of the numerous stops on the way there, a Spanish guy hopped on the bus and asked if it would take him to Koh Sdach... which was a it unusual. Our island i completely off the tourist map... there is close to 0 reasons why anyone should even know it exists, unless they're looking for something really specific, like Shallow Waters. So i had to ask: why was he going there? How did he discover it? So after an hour of conversations i found out he was really interested on the dynamics of fisherman villages and heard about Koh Sdach from a friend in Phnom Penh (i think, i cant remember all the details clearly). He got in touch with someone on the island who had a brother who drove a minivan from Phnom Penh to the island... the whole thing sounded vaguely familiar. So once we arrived to Shallow Water Headquarters i was greeted by Sea and some of the staff members/volunteers, I was just about to introduce sea to the Spanish guy, when i realized that they were completely aware of who they were, and they had been in contact the whole time... that's when i remembered: Sea has a brother that drove a minivan... and it's the same guy that took me up and down a couple times before! D'oh!
He ended up staying at Sea's place and i had the customer room at the base all to myself! Yay!
After Mr. Spanish guy left (I absolutely can't remember his name... what a surprise) I finished up saying hello to everyone else (except Fia, Caroline and Sandra, who were still out diving from the morning) and i started unpacking all the goodies that i had brought with me from the mainland: first and foremost wine and Nutella! Needless to say, everything was very appreciated!
A half our later we heard the White Geko (our dive boat) pulling in. I ran and hid behind a corner, wanting to surprise Fia when she arrived (maybe i forgot to mention that she had completely no idea i was coming back). They started unloading everything from the boat and as soon as she came in the base i jumped out and startled her to the point that she almost dropped the case with all our medical equipment and oxygen regulator parts... oops! She really wasn't expecting me to be there... it even took her a couple seconds to realize it was actually me and start to react :-P. She looked really happy, and so was I! :-D
We spent the rest of the day filling tanks and showing her all of the photos and videos from the first part of my tour. I spoke so highly about Kampot and all the stuff they could do there that they decided they will probably go there for Christmas! That will be so much fun! I wish i could be there too...
The next day i managed to go diving with Fia and the new DMTs in the morning (if you're reading this, thank you so much again, Fia!!) while in the evening we all went to Didier's guesthouse for dinner. Main course was a not very good attempt of pizza with bolognese sauce and bell peppers on top, it was good (i ate 3), but still... could have been way better, bigger, and less oily (i know, i have to stop complaining). Desert instead was amazing! Home made (i think) orange and vanilla ice cream, inside a half orange. Really really good and fresh! Just what we needed!
Next day I had to leave early (7am) so we didnt party all night long :-P
Journey to Battambang
That day was pretty much 100% travel. It was boring as hell. Left Koh Sdach at 8am with the minivan, got to Phnom Penh at 2pm and had just enough time to jump on a bus to Battambang, which took forever to get there.. about 7:30h. I basically didn't move a muscle all day, but it was still tiring as hell. Once i finally got to Battambang I got off the bus and started walking towards my guesthouse, really looking forward to a shower and a bed... when i suddenly touched one of my pockets and realized something was missing: all my guides and notebooks! I had left them on the bus! I pulled over the first moped driver that passed on the street and told him "follow that bus!" -film style-
After a couple minutes of chasing we finally caught up with it and managed to make the driver pull over. Luckily all my books were still there and i managed to retrieve them. I really don't know how i would have done without them, especially my Lonely Planet!
After that i finally made my way to the guesthouse, where i took a quick shower and literally crashed face first in bed.
Temples, Temples everywhere
The next morning i woke up strangely early (around 6, normal for island times though), took another shower and headed out hoping to have some breakfast, but everything was still closed. That was when i realized this was an actual tourist city. I had some time on my hands (everything opened at 7-7:30) so i decided to go the the post office and do something in should have done a long time ago: send postcards! That took a while to say the least, especially since I hadn't even written them down yet. By the time i got out of the post office everything was open. I went to a Khmer (real Khmer, not touristy Khmer) breakfast place/bar hoping to get some cheap breakfast but i soon found out that either Cambodian people are fine paying tourist prices for meals, or it doesn't really matter where you eat and as long as you are a tourist you'll pay at least twice as much, if not three times (this doesn't apply to city market stands... or at least not in Sihanoukille).
I spent the whole rest of the morning and part of the afternoon just cycling in the countryside stopping at every modern or ancient temple i could find. there were a lot! Really a lot! Like one every Km. After a while i decided to stop visiting modern pagodas and just carry on to the ancient ones. The most impressive was the temple on Phnom Banaan. It is located on the top of a small hill and it has a really steep 300+step stairway to climb before reaching it. I think this is one of the reasons why it wasn't full of tourists, along with the bad weather closing in. The temple itself was really really nice, and reading up on it's history on my guidebook i discovered that it was a possible source of inspiration for the design of the Angkor Wat. They both share the same plant, with a central bigger tower and 4 smaller ones surrounding it, but the temple on Phnom Banaan is apparently hundreds of years older that the famous Angkor Wat. I was really glad i visited it.
On the way back to the guesthouse i stopped at a bakery to treat me to a sweet baguette with coconut scrapings on top and as I stepped through the guesthouse door I saw a guy just glaring at it, eyes wide open. I smiled and pointed out the bakery to him. I took a shower and came back downstairs, he was still there with some friends. Taking advantage of the scene that happened earlier i dropped in and introduced myself. We all went for a snack/drink at a bar and swapped stories on what each had been doing for the past months; after a while I ended up agreeing to going to the circus with them that evening, something I had earlier decided not to do because i thought it was too expensive (10$). Turns out it was totally worth the price, and for a good cause too! The circus was organized by an NGO (http://www.phareps.org/) who took children off the streets and taught them how to be acrobats, artists and entertainers, giving them a job locally and for some even a chance for international shows and events. It was a really good show, completely done by children and teenagers probably under the age of 16.
Things start taking a wrong turn
As the subtitle says, this is when things start going for the worst.
First of all, as soon as the circus show finished and we had just decided to walk back to the guesthouse instead of renting a tuk tuk, it started pouring. We got soaked pretty quickly so we opted for just walking the whole way instead of giving into the temptation of a ride. Worst decision ever. I had a fever that night.
As if that wasn't enough, i discovered there is a Super Typhoon passing through Laos and the northern part of Cambodia, which kinda fucked up all my plans of visiting the Ratanakiri region and its volcanic lakes and waterfalls. I figured there was absolutely no point in going all the way there (14+h trip) while having a good chance it's gonna rain every day all day. So i decided to change my plans, cut my trip short and maybe spend some extra days in Siem Reap, waiting for a nice sunny day to visit the temple city of Angkor.
Siem Reap, take 1
So as i said before, that night i had a fever. Thinking about it again there's a chance it was also coupled, if not completely caused by food poisoning from a sandwich i had that night for dinner. It's a bit odd though, considering I had it in a western bar, but I guess it doesn't really matter where you eat, there's always gonna be a chance of getting a bad batch of eggs or something. Oh well, it lasted the night and the next morning, which can make you imagine how enjoyable my 4 hour ride to Siem Reap has been, and then everything went back to normal. In Siem Reap i checked in a backpacker place called Garden Village, and the name suits it well. It's a bunch of buildings in the middle of a big garden with loads of dorms and small rooms for every budget, down to 1$ a night, which is obviously what i went for. I rented a bike for the day and went wandering around the city, just the get the vibe of it. It's pretty much a mix between a European party town (i guess like Ibiza or Barcelona) and a really busy Chinese city like Hong Kong or Shanghai. Lots of tourists walking around small streets filled with pubs and bars and a river or bicycles and mopeds swarming on the main roads. I kinda like it :-P, but i can see myself getting sick of it pretty quickly. It'll be great for 3 or 4 days, but nothing more.
One big plus for Siem Reap is a tiny little Khmer run restaurant I found in one of the little side roads, out of the main tourist area. They make amazing fruit shakes (probably excessively loaded with sugar, but i'm pretty sure that's what makes them amazing) and relatively cheap Khmer and western food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, some even served in fancy unusual ways like inside a coconut shell or in bowl made out of banana leaves. I've been there every day till now, and i'm not planning on stopping this tradition any time soon.
Siem Reap, take 2
The next day i was still feeling a bit shaken by the fever so i decided to take it slow. I hopped on my bike and did all those touristy things around the city: pagodas, museums, etc. Some of the most interesting things were:
- A miniature reproduction of the Angkor City temples, hand carved by a local stonemason
- The Cambodian Land Mine Museum, opened by an ex Khmer Rouge child soldier who deserted and joined the Vietnamese army once he realized he was fighting for the wrong side. As a child he laid thousands of landmines all around the country and once he grew up and the war was over he decided to dedicate his life to de-mining his country and make it a safe place again (http://cambodianselfhelpdemining.org/).
- The Angkor Butterfly Centre, a small structure with tens of different species of butterflies, who are cared for from egg to adult form. The staff are all Khmer, speak decent English and are extremely informed on every single life stage of the butterfly, along with special needs of every species. A really enjoyable experience, especially if you are into photography.
The big one
Next day was the big day. Angkor City. Departure time from the guesthouse 4:30AM to be there in time for the sunrise at the Angkor Wat. I went to bed at 8PM, set an alarm and tried to get as much sleep as possible, which proved to be more difficult than what i planned. Between not being tired at all, the loud music coming from outside and the anxiousness of having to rely o a faulty alarm clock to wake up on time i basically woke up every couple hours all night. Still, i got enough rest to get me through the day. I woke up on time and got there for the sunrise, which was epic. I wont spend too many words describing it and I'll let the photos do the talking (I'll upload them after tomorrow). After the sunrise i started my actual temple exploring extravaganza. Full temple immersion for over 10h. After that i just couldn't do it any more. I saw most of the temples, leaving out only the really far away ones and the ones that were viewable only from the outside because of ongoing restructuring works. The most interesting ones were Angkor Wat and Ta Phrom of course (the Tomb Raider temple), but the smaller one were also very enjoyable, especially since they weren't so packed with people all the time.
As i said, I'll just let the photos do the talking... just head over to the photo gallery after the 12th.
Wow, that was a long post... they seem to get longer and longer every time instead of shorter. Oh well, as long as you're all happy!
Until next time!