A Travellerspoint blog

Phnom Penh

sunny 35 °C

Phnom Penh was not really my cup of tea.
Too many cars and motorbikes hence too much pollution. Pedestrians are not respected at all, pavements are used for parking cars.
Even the famous riverside area could not tempt me.

There are a few tourist attractions worth seeing though, like the independence monument and its 'L'Etoile'

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The Khmer Rouge has left a mess in Cambodia, killing between 1 and 2 million Cambodians in less than five years. You can find out more about their torturing and killing in the Tuol Sleng Museum. You will not leave smiling.

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The national museum has an impressive collection of Khmer sculptures, unfortunately, you can only take pictures outside

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The central market is worth a glimpse, some say it has the biggest dome in the world but I doubt it is bigger than Rome's Saint Peter's or London's Saint Paul's.

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The Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda are probably the most impressive sights in Phnom Penh

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And sometimes, you can just bump into a little square or park where a day to day scene can be beautiful just because of the light and the colours.

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More to come soon!

Posted by Gitan Jean 07:55 Archived in Cambodia Comments (1)

Siem Reap and the Angkor temples

sunny 37 °C

If Pokhara was Disneyland, Siem Reap is worse but well, you cannot pay a visit to Cambodia without visiting the famous Angkor temples.
The first night, I went to watch the sunset over Angkor Wat.

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Then I went to some further away temples (I rent a bicycle for three days) on the second and the third day and watched the sunset over Tonle Sap Lake.

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Tonle Sap Lake is an amazing phenomenon. About six months per year, the mighty Mekong floats south towards the Vietnamese Mekong delta carrying the melting water from the Tibetan Himalayas. Then, the other six months it actually changes direction and floats north towards the Tonle Sap Lake. During these six months the lake can quadruple in size! No wonder people are living on floating islands. The islands can move kilometers as the lake grows bigger in the wet season.

Angkor Wat is breathtaking. Widely considered as the largest religious construction in the world, it is a masterpiece of architecture. When you think it was built in the 12th century, it is even more unbelievable.
Hundreds of tourists go and watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat everyday, I was one of them.

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It is just incredible how many stone carvings there are in Angkor Wat!

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Ta Prohm is another set of temples but unlike most other temples, it has been left in much the same condition as it was found and so trees are growing out of the temples.

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My favourite was Angkor Thom, an immense city surrounded by eight meter high walls. Walking around there and imagining what it must have been like back then was very special.
One of the most famous temples is the Bayon, built by king Jayavarman VII. The temple has a stunning 56 towers all of which have four sculptured faces. Some see a lot of resemblance with the king himself, others believe the faces represent the Bodhisattva of compassion called Avalokiteśvara or Lokesvara (no, I did not invent these names and yes, I have copy-pasted them).

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You can gain access to Angkor Thom via one of the four impressive gates. They are well worth a glance, I have seen a lot of people entering by tuk-tuk or bus without even having seen them... The east gate was used in Lara Craft's Thomb Raider, or at least that is what the Lonely bible states. Here's a picture of the south gate:

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Khmer food is very tasty but Khmer people do not really seem to understand the concept of vegetarianism. If you ask them for something without meat, they look at you with big eyes as if it were the first time somebody had asked them such a question.
Cambodian cuisine is influenced by the Vietnamese (they have phó and delicious fresh and deep-fried spring rolls), the Thai (a lot of coconut, curry and spices), the Chinese and the French.
Here's an example of an exquisite Khmer meal with spicy frog's legs (the French influence, remember), amok (a very tasty typical Khmer dish with fish or chicken, coconut curry and delicious spices), fresh and deep-fried spring rolls and of course, ri!

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In most places menus are also available in Engrish

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Posted by Gitan Jean 05:01 Archived in Cambodia Comments (3)

Battambang

sunny 35 °C

Battambang is a good starting point for exploring Cambodia. It is a little, quite quiet city not very far from the Thai border. Because of problems with the bus, it took me a good thirteen hours to get here from Bangkok.

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Most interesting about Battambang is its surroundings. Rice paddies, little local villages and fishermen all make it very colourful.
I went easy riding for a day, with Mr Blue, a guy who has very good English, for Cambodian standards. First, he took me to the bamboo train, which is basically two train axes with a woven bamboo construction on them to carry goods or people and it is powered by some sort of lawn mower engine.

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What happens if a bamboo train arrives from the other direction? The one that is the least charged has to get off the tracks and let the other one pass. If there is more bamboo trains in a row, the longest row gets to stay on.

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The bamboo train took us to a brick bakery

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where some enthusiastic local children gave us a short tour.

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Then Mr Blue took me to Phnom Banan, the first Cambodian temple, more would follow soon.

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Cambodia is a butterfly paradise, some are the size of a hand (well, at least a child's hand)

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Last stop easy riding was Phnom Sampeau, famous, amongst others, for its monkeys,

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some striking funny poses

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Although most travelers coming from Thailand head straight to Siem Reap to see the Angkor temples, there are a few good reasons to pass by Battambang first. Battambang is much less Disneyland-like than Siem Reap, though tourism has increased very much in recent years. It is cheaper than Siem Reap and most importantly, you can take the boat from Battambang and arrive in Siem Reap in style!

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The boat passes by the Tonle Sap lake and its famous floating islands

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To end with, a picture of a Cambodian petrol station, much like the Vietnamese ones and one of Golden Eagle's Chilli Suace

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Posted by Gitan Jean 08:34 Archived in Cambodia Comments (1)

Pokhara, Chitwan and Bhaktapur

sunny 28 °C

Pokhara was a nice change after the very basic accommodation and food on the Annapurna trek. Okay, it is a laidback backpackerstown (at least, the lakeside) where all try to be as cool as possible but I couldn't care less, I just had some good food and a lot of sleep.

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Sarangkot, high above Pokhara's lakeside is very beautiful in the morning. You can see the sun come up and turn the snowy Annapurna peaks from white into gold. You will have to get up at five, though!
If you do not want to get up that early, you can go paragliding in Sarangkot, I have watched the paragliders for hours, there were so many of them! Well, maybe next time...

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Next stop was Chitwan National Park. It is a huge chunk of tropical forest on the Nepali - Indian border with loads of animals like tigers, elephants, rhinos etc.
We, that is the mandatory two guides and me, went for a two-day walk in the jungle. The guide always walking in front was experienced, he knew all the names of the animals (although his English was very poor) and more importantly: he knew the way! The 'guide' always walking at the back (he looked 16 but said he was 23) admitted it was his first jungle walk :)
Before we left, they insisted on me taking a wooden stick just in case a wild animal would attack us! I think if that would have happened, the first thing I would have done would have been to throw away the stick and climb the nearest tree...
We were very lucky with the animals, we saw about four rhinos, of which one from very close, two wild elephants and plenty of deer and monkeys.

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Last stop in Nepal was Bhaktapur. About one hour from Kathmandu, it is an open-air museum with loads of picturesque squares, plenty of temples and a lot of flies.
Here's some impressions:

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All houses and temples are very nicely decorated with woodcarvings, some leaving little to imagination.

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I flew into Bangkok yesterday. The Air India flight I had booked would pass by Delhi, it was much cheaper than the direct Thai Airways flight, but I was rebooked on the latter one anyway because the Delhi flight was overbooked, so that was okay.
Seen from the plane, a lot of Bangkok is flooded, but the center of the city is still quite ok. Ironically enough, no water can be found in supermarkets any more. A lot of sand bags have to protect buildings for worse floods still to come. Thai newspapers state the situation would improve after the weekend but would only get back to normal in about 30 days.
Tomorrow morning, I will take the bus to Cambodia, so news about travelling in Cambodia is soon to come.

Take care everyone!

Posted by Gitan Jean 07:59 Archived in Nepal Comments (6)

The Annapurna circuit trekking

sunny 23 °C

Namaste!

Just finished the Annapurna trekking from Besishahar to Jomsom and it was lovely!

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The variety of the landscapes is amazing. You start in Besishahar, at 800m where the climate is tropical. Soon, you can see the 6, 7 and 8000+ peaks of the Annapurna range, so, when you are too warm, you just have to have a look at them and feel the cold of the mass of ice and snow.

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In the beginning, the landscapes, and more in particular the rice paddies, made me think of Vietnam. Then, some landscapes made me think of Lanquin, Guatemala. There was the forest that made me think of Twin Peaks and higher up, of course, the Tibetan landscapes.

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And those colours! Spring colours with the snowy peaks in the background.

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The trail was long and difficult at times, but it was all well worth it!

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The highest point to cross was the Thorung La pass, with 5416m the highest I have ever been.

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And then there was the steep descent.

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Most people hire porters and/or guides, they carry up to three backpacks

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The higher you get up, the cheaper accommodation but the more expensive and the worse the food... Of course, everything has to be carried up because there are no roads. I have seen porters carry up to 80 kilos! Donkeys and horses are also used to carry up whatever needed.

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The worst accommodation was definitely at Thorung Phedi, the night before we had to do the Thorung La pass. There was only space in dorms left, twelve people in a bunk bed with very dirty sheets and mattresses and of course, no showers. You only pay half a euro per night but I would have been very happy to pay for some more comfort. All along the trail, you pay between 0.5 and 3 euros per night but rooms are very basic (and not always very clean) and bathrooms (if there are any) are always shared.

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Prices of food can be up to four times as high as in Kathmandu (5 euros for dal bhat), beer can be three times the price (6 euros for 650ml).
I wouldn't recommend to have a lot of meat on the way up.

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The villages on the way are really beautiful sometimes and the names are often very exotic.

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On the last day, I had something wrong to eat in the morning and became sick, not a nice way to end the trekking. We still had a few hours to walk, from Maktinath to Jomsom, through a desert-like landscape and to make things worse, a sandstorm set up. But, I have made it and to celebrate that, I treated myself to a six-euro hotel in Jomsom. I could not believe my eyes! I had a double bed, all to myself. There was lights, electricity and sockets. I even had a bathroom without mushrooms and with a shower, hot water, a normal toilet, a towel and a bar of soap. The room did not smell of a tent that has not been unpacked for three months and the sheets were clean and smelled good, bliss!

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After thirteen hours, three buses and a taxi I arrived in Pokhara yesterday. Pokhara is the laid-back tourist town in Nepal. And being a tourist is what I did today. I rowed a boat down the lake, climbed up to the world peace pagoda, updated my blog and bought some souvenirs. I am now the happy owner of a pair of Crocs, or rather Croos. I just could not stand those flip-flops any more, they made me have blisters between the toes, and I have to say the Croos please me. Well, for three euros...
I will stay in Pokhara until the day after tomorrow, rest a bit, eat proper food and parade passed the souvenir shops, bookshops, trekking shops, travel agencies, bars and restaurants, just like all the other tourists do.

Posted by Gitan Jean 06:40 Archived in Nepal Comments (7)

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