Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Cambodia’ Category

Bada Bing Bada Boom, Bats & More in Battambang

Nobody knows exactly how many bats exit a cave in Phnom Sampeu, southwest of Battambang, Cambodia. Check out this short, albeit amateurish, video of the phenomenon.

The bats fly out each day at dusk to hunt insects most of the night. Some say millions of bats, other say tens of thousands. The mass exodus takes about 45 minutes to complete and attracts both tourists and locals.

Family outing

A tragic and more significant site, the Killing Caves, sit nearby. This area was a stronghold of the Khmer Rouge during the nightmarish civil war of the 1970s. Over 10,000 Cambodians were tortured and bludgeoned to death, and then thrown into the caves.

Horror 1

A horrific statue display of these acts, followed by the cave itself filled with the skulls and bones of the victims, serves as a somber reminder of Cambodia’s troubled past.

The killing cave

Let’s lighten things up with a visit to the circus. Phare Ponleu Selpak, an arts education program for poor children, puts on performances several times weekly.

The circus dancers

The student’s performance provides for a most enjoyable evening. Filled with music, dance and acrobatics, it’s like a mini Cirque du Soleil.

The circus 2

The following day, we sweat almost as much as the circus performers after climbing 358 stone steps in the stifling heat, to the temple of Prasat Banan.

Going up the 368 steps

Locals claim that this temple, built before Angkor Wat, provided Angkor’s plan.

Banon Hill Temple

Walking around the city of Battambang wraps up our three-week travels in Cambodia. The French colonial architecture and peaceful riverside setting make for a fitting finish, as we prepare for the long trip back home.

Battambang

There is much to love about Cambodia, including easy, affordable, comfortable travel. But foremost is the genuine kindness of its people. The combination of magnificent, ancient spiritual sites and a barbaric recent history, touches us down deep. Thank you, Cambodia. Thank you, Abundant Universe.

Kampot, Siem Reap & Temples of Angkor

As the hot Cambodian temperatures drain us, we head to the town of Kampot, known for its pepper.

Kampot pepper chicken

Chicken with Kampot Pepper

Before the Khmer Rouge Regime destroyed all pepper farms in the 70’s, Kampot pepper adorned tables of the finest restaurants in Paris. Today it has made a comeback, infusing delectable sauces with a variety of dishes.

Views from Kampot riverside

Outside of the pepper, we’re mainly here to walk, drink, eat, and people-watch in this laid back river town. We walk in the mornings, then hit one of the numerous restaurant/pubs that line the river later in the hot afternoon.

Kampot city

People watching never gets dull. We see many older white males with young Cambodian women. Other elders just roam around aimlessly, left over from either wars or the hippy era, and of course the young backpackers with dreads or the hair-in-a-bun (I Dream of Jeannie) look. Not a whole lot to do here. Not sure what they do every day, but the locals continually work with a smile.

Ron Riding

Enough laziness. We rent a motor scooter for a ride up Bokor Mountain through the National Park. When riding in Cambodia, size matters. The bigger the vehicle, the more right of way. Rare red lights and street signs have little meaning. I have 30 years of experience riding a big Harley Davidson, but this little automatic 125cc scooter with Marilynn on the back gives me all I can handle. Trucks, tuk tuks, carts, and other scooters pass on the left side, while scooters and whatnot approach head-on from the right shoulder, all on a dusty road full of holes and bumps. Exhilarating! Like being in a live video game.

20180212_124534.jpg

Once in the park, the road transforms to smooth pavement with little traffic. And guess what? As we twist up the mountain, the relief of cool wind blows us around! A monument of Lok Yeay Mao, the goddess of protector, greets us near the top. Hope she protects us on the way back down into the heat of pepper town.

Kampot riverside views

We chill along the river and enjoy a few sundowners (cocktails) and more local fare, lok lak (beef prepared in a sauce that includes Kampot pepper and garlic). Better than the tarantulas in the previous post.

Lok Lak

Time to travel north to Siem Reap and visit the number one tourist attraction in Cambodia, Angkor Wat. This enormous complex of temples sits on 402 acres and is an UNESCO World Heritage site.

Sunrise Angkor Wat

We climb into a tuk tuk at 4:30 am to catch a glimpse of the largest temple at sunrise. At first, we’re a bit dismayed by the hordes of tourists, like Disneyland or something.

Sunrise Angkor Wat

However, after sunrise the crowds dilute into this massive temple complex.

Angkor Wat

 

In eight-hours we explore four temples. First, Angkor Wat itself, which is the largest religious building in the world. Despite its overwhelming size, the details and carvings draw us.

20180214_113156.jpg

20180214_123110.jpg

We hire a tuk tuk for the day for transport between sites. However, locating your driver among a sea of tuk tuks can be a challenge.

Bridge

The scenic ride rolls through forest, past lakes, and over picturesque bridges.

Bridge

In Angkor Thom we visit Bayon, a temple full of mysterious, smiling faces (216 faces to be exact) on 54 towers.

Bayon Temple

Every corner or window holds surprise or a smile.

Bayon Temple

Our third ruin, Ta Prohm, reminds me of how nature eventually reclaims everything, as the fig, the banyan, and kapok trees slowly swallow this structure with their massive roots.

20180214_084707_001.jpg

Angelina Jolie’s character Lara Croft picked a jasmine flower in the movie “Tomb Raider” at this location. (We haven’t seen the movie)

Ta Prohm temple

Our day’s exploration ends at a massive Buddhist Monastery, Banteay Kdei.

Banteay Kdel  Temple

Here, bright colors of lichen appear to paint the decaying walls.

Banteay Kdel Temple

I also received a Buddhist blessing here for the health and welfare of my parents back in the states.

Ron receiving blessing

Entrance fees recently rose to $37 USD for a one-day ticket, or $67 USD for three days. After eight-hours our minds could not comprehend much more temple stimuli, though you could spend a week here and be continually amazed.

20180214_121315.jpg

Time for drinks on Pub Street in Siem Reap.

Pub Street during the day

It’s still daylight, so we’ll start off with traditional Cambodian barbecue – frog legs, crocodile, pork, beef, chicken, and fish grilled at our table.

Cambodian BBQ

The bright lights inspire a round of drinks.

Pub Street Siem Reap

Then maybe a bit more barbeque from a fiery wok.

Street cooking

More drinks can lead to all kinds of chaos. Like how about ending the evening with our feet tickled by a school of dead-foot-skin-eating-fish? (Fish Can Do Massage)

Yikes!

Fishy foot treatments

 

Thank you, abundant universe.

 

Getting Our Travel Legs in Cambodia

After 24 hours of flying time (plus three stops), we arrive in Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh, around midnight. Full bore jet lag symptoms (nausea, exhaustion, and insomnia) accompany us to the comfortable and affordable G Mekong Hotel.

Not able to eat much of the included, fantastic breakfast, we walk in zombie-like state the next morning through a blast of infinite scooters that mingle with an array of vehicles. Traffic apocalypse. You must watch your footing on uneven ground with holes full of sewer water, look ahead for opportunistic gaps in traffic, and a “rearview walking mirror” would come in handy as sidewalks are not made for walking.Phnom Penh Somehow this mayhem works. Few accidents occur and road rage does not appear to exist in this gentle culture. We already know from similar experience in Ho Chi Minh City that you must walk with a steady stride so that traffic can adjust to your pace, and flow around you like a school of fish. Of course, we’re lost.  Phnom PenhWising up the following day, we take a tuk-tuk on a mission to walk along the Mekong River, where there’s a sidewalk. Slowly getting our legs back, but still delirious, we wonder if we’re getting too old for this type of travel. Nah, bring on the freaky food! On a walk back to the hotel, we do a reconnaissance mission seeking a restaurant that serves tarantula and red tree ants. Pure Cambodian country fare.Phnom PenhWe get bad news from back home in the states, as my father is hospitalized with serious health problems. Not sure if we need to fly back now or later, we debate our future. Finally, we decide to play it by ear and not make any long-range plans. Another night of insomnia, surely caused by jet lag combined with worries. Either way, it is time for an afternoon beer on a street known for its nightlife.

Cambodians are genuinely nice and non-threatening. Even in the large cities, robberies and violent crime are rare compared to the west. Ironically, our largest “threats” have come from “white” guys either on strange drugs or damaged by something we can’t begin to imagine. Being Adult Probation Officers in a previous life, every older white guy traveling alone must be a child molester in our mind’s eye. Perhaps an unfair assessment, but hard to shake those types of thoughts based on years of training and experience. Tarantula for lunchOkay, a few beers later we visit “Romdeng” restaurant to dine on tarantula with black pepper lime sauce, and red tree ants with beef filet and spicy basil stir fry. The sauce dominates the ant dish, and we have no need to eat tarantula again! This restaurant is staffed by former street youths with teachers that present kids with career training. We’ll return to support this worthy cause but will skip the creepy crawlies next time.Tree fire ants in basil stir fryHealth news from back home gets better, so we book a minivan for a five-hour ride to the small beach community of Kep.KepWe sit in our assigned seats, when two other travelers approach with the same seat booking. Turns out that I booked this ride on internet without noticing that the next available opening was several days away! If we were in the US, we would simply be kicked off the bus. In Cambodia, the driver says, “Oh, problem.” He then removes some cargo, flips out a bench seat for two in the luggage area, and squeezes us in. Resolves problem. Love Cambodia. Never been so happy to sit on the bumpy bench in the back.Views Kep NPKep. Wow! Laid back town with a small beach, surrounded by jungle covered hills and national parks. It has wide streets with sidewalks and an inviting waterfront where a person can sit with a cold beer and watch folks gather bamboo crab pots.  Kep Crab MarketA very welcome calm from city mayhem. We sit on the porch of our fabulous bungalow at “Atmaland,” and relax. As my father’s health slowly improves back home, we start to get our legs back. Kep Crab Market blessingKep, actually known for it’s crabs, lives up to the hype. The crab market has, well, crabs, everywhere, along with squid, octopus, fish, shrimp, sting ray on a stick, and other things we cannot identify.Kep crabsThese tiny blue crabs infused with Kampot pepper sauce demand a good bit of work for little payoff in meat. But then, we are spoiled as far as crab goes, from hanging in places like Oregon and Alaska. While the crab disappoints, the Kampot pepper sauce rocks.Kep crab with Kampot pepperTime for a shaded, mountain hike through a rainforest complete with monkeys and ocean vistas.Kep NPOur bungalow backs up to the Kep National Park. For only one dollar the Park’s five-mile loop trail makes for the perfect morning walk.Kep NPAfter four days of peaceful bliss, we’re hopping a minivan to the nearby town of Kampot. I got the booking date correct this time. Thank you, abundant universe!