We’ve been traveling 2 months through South East Asia and have seen some amazing things, done some pretty cool stuff and tasted some interesting delicacies. It’s not easy to give you an impression of what we do and what we eat, but we thought we’d try to give you an idea of what we see through these panorama shots. Let us know your favourite!
A beautiful lake full of islands in eastern Malaysia. We enjoyed an evening paddle and camped on the lake shore.
Beautiful mountain scenery of this famous tea growing area. This was the first night we used the duvet (dekbed) due to the altitude of our campground.
We enjoyed a short break from driving on this tropical paradise. Lots of diving and snorkeling, accompanied by great food and smoothies.
There are no roads to this beautiful area, so we paddled in with our own kayak. We even found a slackline set up between two rocks over the water.
Another of our favourites from Railay beach, this time looking towards the beaches of the mainland.
Great views across this remote national park. We enjoyed an evening hike to a secluded waterfall at the end of one of the trails for a lovely swim.
We found this collection of buddhas on our way to the historic city of Ayuthaya. It was a huge temple complex, including a whole section devoted to gory images illustrating what could happen to you if you don’t behave.
Sunrise at Ta Prohm, our favourite temple, which we had all to ourselves. Tomb Raider was filmed here. Absolutely stunning!
We used our bikes to cycle around many of the temples. This is in the Angkor Thom complex.
Our favourite gate from the Angkor Thom complex: the East Gate.
Lara at sunset at Baphuon, again in the Angkor Thom complex. This is the principle temple and famous for its 54 statues.
A bridge built in the Angkor period, and still in use today, although restricted to pedestrians, cyclists and motor bikes.
Cambodians congregate here for evening exercise, enjoying the breeze on top of the stands. Aerobics and dancing were particularly popular, along with soccer, volleyball and tennis.
Hunting for the elusive Siamese crocodiles we had an exciting time slithering up and down very muddy roads with Lara.
One of our favourite lunch stops, trees for shade and the beautiful Pai river for a swim and a ‘shower’.
You might remember this one from the biggest waterfight in the world. Songkran (Buddhist New Year) celebrations, we picked a pub and defended it with guns and buckets.
View of the jungle from our tree house during the Gibbon Experience. You can only enter and leave via zipline. A memorable experience.
The view across the Mekong toward Thailand. We crossed into Lao via an (overpriced) ferry.
One of the temples in Vientiane had thousands of little Buddha statues everywhere.
One of the waterfalls near Vientiane. We spent a few hours here, swimming a bit but mainly reading our books whilst sitting in the water on a rock. We then spent the night next to the falls as well. Great spot.
The karst formations near Van Vieng, spectacular at sunset.
The Plain of Jars, there were thousands of these in many different sites, we visited the main 3 sites.
An ancient burial site where vertical planking was invented.
There are so many unexploded bombs in Laos people have used them as bbq’s, flower pots and even built whole fences with them. Unfortunately too many people still die from these unexploded bombs every day.
Beautiful karst formations with many caves used by the people of Laos to escape the American bombings.
The hospital cave, very gloomy even with the electric lights. Imagine how this must have felt in the nine years it was in use during the bombings.
We visited the primary school of the tiny village with the English teacher. There were 9 classrooms and around 300 kids there, just from the few local villages. Families with 8 – 10 kids are pretty common here.
Kids in the playground of the primary school. They didn’t want to be in the photo until we showed them the camera and they could see themselves. Then they all wanted to be in it.
An Akha village and its swing. There is no road (yet) to this village where we spent the night with the chief’s family.
Have a look at our video about Lara in Cambodia: we forgot to add the link to the post last time!
The roads throughout Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia have been much better than we expected and certainly better that those you find around South Australia and Adelaide – which we consider to have the worst roads in Australia. Anxious to justify bringing a 4WD, we decided to make the trip across the Cardamon Mountains in the south west of Cambodia. This turned out to be an adventure exceeding our expectations.
Firstly though, we took a detour to the Arang Valley, in search of the elusive Siam crocodile. We’re really in remote areas now and English is hardly spoken, but with a combination of arm waiving and crocodile miming, we think we were heading the right way. We push through some very boggy bits of road and found a track to the river through the jungle. We finally reach the pristine stream after a lengthy hike, but we only stay for a brief hunt for the crocs as it is now raining and we need to make it out of here before the roads get too muddy.
We make it out by the skin of our teeth, the roads are impossibly steep and turn to mud quickly. Lara has to fight her way up the slopes and inch down them again, with lots of slithering towards huge ditches. Just as exciting was watching the wheel tracks of the local motorbikes, which seemed to be skidding rather than riding down the slopes. It’s evident why these areas get cut off for months in the wet season.
The next day the clouds had gone and we set off on the ‘proper’ crossing of the Cardamons. The road climbed from the south coast up into the mountains and we enjoyed views of jungle covered ridges as far as the eye could see. For a while that was…
We were soon engulfed in a world scale construction project. The friendly Chinese were here to build four successive hydroelectric dams for the electricity starved Cambodians. With new roads everywhere to the dam, quarries and construction camps, we lost the way and ended up right in the middle of the construction site. The Chinese attitude towards safety was an eye-opener: trucks poured concrete from the top of the dam wall with no safety barriers – one false move would have sent the truck plummeting down a 100m high dam wall, taking the team of concreters working on the wall itself with it. No wonder they can build things so cheaply.
Eventually we figured out the way, but had lost a couple of frustrating hours. The road beyond the dam projects was less traveled and hence less maintained, and poor Lara suffered as we crashed through endless potholes and corrugations. She needs to last all the way to London after all.
We stopped for lunch at a shady spot by the road, which is where we met Mr Lim, a local ranger, conservationist and most important, an English speaker. He insisted we stay with him that night. Mr Lim was also a demon 125cc motorbike rider and we had a hard time keeping up with him on the way to his village. It was a little embarrassing to see that Lara was almost as big as his house.
We helped with the cooking: fish and a green vegetable called ‘morning glory’! After dinner a couple of Mr Lim’s friends took us down to the local river to again look for the elusive Siam crocodile. Luckily we didn’t see any, because Jon fell in and would have been a goner otherwise… (luckily our non-waterproof camera survived the swim).
Day 2 in the Cardamons and things got worse, not better. The potholes grew to the size of a small car and the local Toyota’s, which are used as buses on the route, were most often seen broken down by the side of the road. The bridges were worse still, the wooden trunks and cross beams were mostly in very bad shape, and some were clearly collapsing. And we hadn’t seen any cars bigger than Lara on this section of the road, so we tried to ignore the creaks and groans as we inched across them….
Eventually we were out. Certainly it was more than we had bargained for. Have a look at our video Lost and Found in the Cardamon Mountains (link to you tube as we can’t add it here directly).
From there it was on to Battambang, our last stop in Cambodia. We went for a ride on the bamboo train, a simple dismountable train with a wooden platform, 2 axles and an engine which allows trains to pass each other on a single track. It was an awesome ride!
At our final dinner, we had to evade a massive scorpion running around the floor of the restaurant and we also met Dale Amesbury of Next Generation Cambodia. She was an Aussie expat who had set up a home to give kids from remote villages the opportunity to get an education (if you’re interested you can sponsor a kid, check out the link for more info). She had a huge amount of energy and we spent a pleasant evening listening to her stories. Apparently, after the school was built they discovered half a dozen land-mines still buried in the grounds (and this is after the government had given it the all-clear!).
We loved our 2 weeks and 2,500km in Cambodia. The people were delightful, as were their fish curries, and there is so much diversity for such a tiny country.
For us, it was back to Thailand, we were heading for the mountainous north and the Buddhist New Year celebrations.
Cambodia has been through 20 years of civil war, the Khmer Rouge brutally killed an estimated 2-3 million people, or 20% of the population. Vast areas are still covered with landmines and it officially ranks as the 157th most corrupt country on earth. And yet the Khmers, as Cambodians are known, are friendly, speak relatively good English and are optimistic about the future.
We have found on our travels that most towns can be spelled at least three different ways and road signs can be unreliable, so we do rely heavily on our GPS. There are well know examples of where this can go horribly wrong, and as we approached the kilometer-wide Mekong River for the first time, with no bridge in sight, we thought we would be in for a long detour. As it turns out, the GPS knew there was a tiny ferry (did it really?), which took us over the river and on to Kratie, in the heart of the Mekong province.
Hot and sultry (thank god the air conditioning was fixed), there was a slower pace of life here. We swam in the surprisingly clean water and managed to see the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin – motorized transport on the river has been banned in some sections to help protect these dolphins, quite amazing.
After that, it was on to Phnom Penh, the capital. But not before we made a stop to try a local delicacy: deep fried tarantula. The legs were tasty, but the body was a bit much…
Phnom Penh is really just a big town, although the first high rise is going up. It also has no traffic lights. Despite this the trucks, Range Rovers, tuk-tuks, scooters and bikes blend seamlessly at junctions. There is no road rage, no horns – it just works.
We decided to join the chaos, and took our ‘new’ bikes for a spin around town, leaving Lara to take a couple of days off. Of course, we still camped and had a prime riverside spot for just $1 per night. Jude continued the big spending, joining the locals at the mass outdoor aerobics classes – $0.30 per session!
NGO is the current buzzword in Cambodia. There are countless NGOs of all shapes and sizes to look after land mine victims, orphans, wildlife etc etc. We discovered NGO restaurants, where street kids are taken on and trained to be chefs and waiters. It’s a great idea, and possibly the inspiration for Jamie Oliver who did something similar in London?
More sobering were Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields. Tuol Sleng was a school converted into a Khmer Rouge prison and interrogation centre where suspected enemies of the state (in this case 17,000 of them) where forced to ‘confess’, before being trucked out to the mass graves of the Killing Fields. And this within our lifetimes. Even sadder is that to date, only one Khmer Rouge leader has been sentenced under the joint Cambodian / UN war crimes tribunal.
We then hit the south coast beaches, which will be the last time we see the ocean until Turkey, planned for November / December. Our last ocean sunset at Sihanoukville was spent camped right on the beach with a cold beer – perfect.
This area is also known for its pepper, used by the better French restaurants. Although the Khmer Rouge destroyed it all in favour of rice production, it is making a comeback – so look our for Kampot pepper in your local organic shop. We had a great afternoon in the swimming pool after doing the little tour of the pepper farm, a great way to spend a hot afternoon!
We are now heading back towards Thailand, and our final leg of the journey in Cambodia will be through the Cardamon Mountains.
Have a look at our video about Lara in Cambodia (link to you tube as we can’t add it here directly).
Most people have heard of Angkor Wat, most people have seen a picture or 2 of Angkor Wat, but there is so much more than Angkor Wat! (wat means temple)
Basically the whole area around Siem Reap is riddled with temples, all built in the Angkor period (think Roman period, but located in South East Asia). The Angkor period was from 802 to 1432, more than 600 years in which each king wanted to build a temple that was bigger and better than the previous one.
We dedicated 2 full days to this area and in true Jon and Jude style we spent those days from sunrise to sunset walking, riding and driving around the many, many temples. After 25 hrs in 2 days we still hadn’t seen all of it, but we had admired most of them (and we were knackered!).
We read the suggestions, highlights and must-do’s in preparation (= on the fly) and decided to do it differently to try to avoid the crowds. It was the best decision we made. We spent sunrise at Ta Promh, which became our favourite of all temples, closely followed by Ta Nei (where we ate breakfast on the second day without anybody else around) and Preah Khan.
Most people watch sunrise at Angkor Wat, but we didn’t go there until late in the afternoon when most tourists had already gone home or hiked up the hill of Phnom Bakeng to watch sunset on Angkor Wat.
The temples are all beautiful and although there are a lot of similarities, it is amazing how different each temple still is. The one we liked best still has some trees growing all over the walls and gates, showing the slow attack from the jungle over many, many years. It’s also know as Tomb Raider temple as some scenes from the movie were shot here.
Ta Nei was similar, with some trees still growing around it, but much smaller. It was also well off the beaten track and in the hour we spent there enjoying our breakfast and exploring the temple we only saw a handful of other tourists.
We spent some time with an archeologist in Angkor Thom at a tiny temple called West Prasat Top. It isn’t mentioned anywhere and we just stumbled upon it whilst cycling around Angkor Thom (10km2, it’s absolutely huge). It is fascinating to watch them dismantle one of the towers, build it back up, layer by layer, making new blocks where needed (if the original one can’t be found or is too damaged), excavating the site, checking the foundation (and making new discoveries) and finally building it all back up again. They were using some machinery to help them, but the finer work making new pieces was still being done by hand.
Despite getting between 2-3 million visitors each year camping doesn’t seem to be popular and this is the first time we struggled to find a spot to spend the night, being chased away by police officers and security guards a few times.
Siem Riep has everything you could possibly need, including great night markets, lots of restaurants, pubs, nightclubs and even a Land Rover garage where they could fix Lara. No, she didn’t break down, but the aircon died a few days before we got here and with 35 degrees in the shade around 9 in the morning we decided to spend a few hours getting it fixed. It also meant we could find a place to do some much needed laundry and do some shopping in town.
If you haven’t been to Siem Riep yet, we can definitely recommend going here on your next holiday. It had been on my 100-things-to-do-before-I-die-list for a long, long time and it certainly lived up to its expectation.