Day 19 continued – Angkor ruins

So after visiting Angkor Wat the rest of our tour was taking us to the near by surrounding temples. Angkor Thom is the next most famous and the former capital. This is a walled section of the Angkor park and consists of four main developments inside. We entered through the South gate. Each side is lined with 54 figures. One side lined with ‘devas’ (guardian gods) and the other with ‘asuras’ (demon gods). Both are pulling on the snake, the guardian’s from the head, and the demons from the tail. It is apparently a very famous Hindu story but I don’t know all the details. We didn’t get a good picture if this so I had to steal this one from http://www.orientalarchitecture.com

Once inside we headed to the largest structure, Bayon, which is directly in the centre. This is predominantly a series of face sculptures on the 37 remaining towers and is very impressive. We initially got a little bit lost round the bottom level and found some stairs but they were the ones down. Eventually we managed to navigate our way round but on the way spotted a fertility statue similar to like we had seen at My Son in Vietnam.

Once we headed up the stairs we were confronted with these amazing facial sculptures which were really stunning. We were then trying to get good pictures, but this wasn’t easy with lots of other tourists around looking for the perfect picture, meaning that they would take 10 to 20 photos in each spot. Eventually I gave up on trying to avoid other people’s photos as it made a straight path like a labyrinth. It was lovely to be up there though and a nice place to visit. Many of the temples also have carvings of apsara (dancing ladies) and Bayon some especially good ones.

Due to the heat we didn’t linger for too long and headed back down. On our way out we were very excited as this was the first time we saw macaques roaming around. Macaques are all over South East Asia so we were disappointed to have not seen them yet so you can imagine what we were like.

We then went on to the second part of Angkor Thom, Baphuon temple. This has a lovely entrance with a pathway right through the middle of water either side. The temple itself was so very different to Bayon and again very impressive. This was a tiered level building and you go up around the outside this time so less ways to get lost. The views from the top were lovely and we were really glad to be seeing temples outside of Angkor Wat which is obviously the most popular.

During our trip we often saw people at the temples dressed in bright colours so as to show off clothing or for modelling purposes but this meant that they stand out in your photos.

It was then onto the elephant terrace and terrace of the leopard king. We were tired and hot by this point and knew there was more to come so didnt spend too long here but it was still nice to see.

There were still more temples to see so we cracked on. They were all very different which was fantastic. One had very steep steps to climb and it was a little daunting at a few points as there was no railing just occasionally a large block to support you.

We also went to Ta Prohm. This one was one of my favourites as it was overgrown with trees and it was amazing to see it all interspersed amongst the ruins. A fantastic sight and a highlight for sure. It is also recognisable from the film tombraider as it was used for a setting.

We also had lunch near the ruins. There wasn’t many options of different places but the place we went to was very nice and very reasonably priced. It did only accept cash though, not too surprising to be fair. We then visited a couple more temples before heading back to our hotel. We were knackered and yet, when we got back, it was only 2.30pm!!!

When got back had basically had a nap. We were tired from our early wake up and the rest was much appreciated. For dinner we headed towards pub street. Pub street is a popular location for tourists and had been mentioned to us by one of the tuk-tuk drivers. It was very vibrant and a wide selection of food and we were hungry. All around he could see happy hour signs which meant 50p pints of beer. Meg and I both don’t drink beer but we did have a couple of cocktails with our meal. 

Well we’ve got our three day pass for Angkor but after such a knackering day we think we’ll have a bit of a rest day tomorrow.

See you there.

Myky and Meg

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Day 19 – Angkor Wat

So today was an exciting day as it was our first day going to Angkor Wat. We’d booked a sunrise tour which meant that we had to leave by 4.30am because we still needed to buy our tickets. This meant a nice wake up time of 3.30am. We were knackered but we managed to drag ourselves out of bed and our tuk-tuk was ready to go to take us to buy our tickets at 4.30. Today we were with Mr Chheat. We got to the ticket counter nice and early but once we arrived people had already started forming a queue. Tickets don’t actually go on sale until 5.00am so we were actually waiting around for a bit. There are a number of queues there but when we arrived there was only one so, being British, we went to the back of that one. Eventually more people arrived and got in other queues and this did annoy us a bit. Eventually tickets started to be sold and when we got to the front of our queue we were told we were in the wrong queue! There are three different ticket types you can buy, one day, three day, or seven day and corresponding cards on the counters, which we hadn’t noticed. Turns out we were in the one day queue and we wanted a three day pass, luckily for us the queues for these were a lot shorter. Anyway we got our ticket and headed to Angkor Wat for the sunrise. 

Before you head to the temple you have to get your ticket checked and this is at a separate location. We didnt realise but our tuk-tuk driver took us there and we didn’t even have to get out. Once at the temple there are tour guides offering their services. I can imagine that this is very worthwhile but we decided not to and to make our own way round. 

There were tonnes of people there already when we got to the grounds and a lot more coming. Everyone seemed to be picking their spot and not letting anyone encroach at all. Luckily Meg and I are both quite tall so we got a pretty good view easily, ready for the sunrise. It was a fantastic way to see Angkor Wat for the first time, with a little bit more being revealed every minute. It’s a lovely silhouette to see and we were very excited to get inside and look around.

Once the sun had risen we went inside the main central structure of Angkor Wat. There are many great carvings and paintings around the outside of the building and lots of people seem to ignore these to head straight in. We found these really interesting and definitely not something you want to miss. 

We then headed inside. Once we were inside there were a series of inner levels. Once near the top we came across a rather long queue right in front of us. This was the queue to head up into the highest level, into the towers. Whilst in the queue we met a nice couple who advised us on seeing some of the outer temples and on purchasing a book which was for sale all over the place. For the upper tier there are only 100 people at any one time allowed up and they only allow you up if you are wearing appropriate clothing. We saw a few people get turned away because of this. The stairs heading up to the towers were very steep and many people were struggling. These steps are so steep as they are supposed to represent climbing up the holy mountain (mount Meru). Once we had managed the steps, you get to see a view out over the Angkor Wat grounds. This was a lovely view and experience. It was great to see the intricacies of the different buildings and we couldn’t imagine just how they could’ve made this structure. It is so beautiful and well preserved and we were so happy that we could see this.

It is literally in the middle of the jungle with forest all around. If you want to there are even walks off the side where it seems you can explore. Overall we spent about four hours here.

More to come from day 19 in our next blog.

Myky and Meg

Day 18 : Angkor Wat miniature sculpturesĀ 

First day in Cambodia. We unfortunately didn’t realise that this was the day the international half marathon was being held. This is a wonderful event used to raise funds to clear the country of thousands of landmines left from the civil war. A very commendable cause, but was being held at the temples. We felt a little disappointed to change our plans, but there was still plenty to see. We booked our tour for the next day and set out to explore Siem Reap. The hotel had loads of tuk-tuks available for us. 

Unfortunately we were incredibly hot and tired from yesterday’s travel we didn’t get very far. We managed to find a cold drink and Myky came across a miniature model of the Angkor Wat Temple on his offline map. Being anxious to see Angkor Wat, we felt it was an appropriate place to begin before we saw it tomorrow and headed out to see it.
We eventually found the site tucked away down a residential street. The man who built it is Dy Proeung, a local man. He was part of a competition to complete a miniature structure along with five other sculptors. The task took him four years to carve from rock but was only possible due to his several years of study, since his childhood. His work was revered by many and even warranted a visit from the Cambodian King. As you can see from the pictures below, it’s wonderful to see and has so much detail. He was evidently very proud of his work and it was fantastic being able to talk to him about it. 

Here’s a little more history for you, as this may never have been made due to a terrible time in Cambodian history. Mr Proeung said that he had studied the temples in school and had been learning to draw them for years. In 1975, the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia and a civil war began. This was a communist regime group that began to reform Cambodia and resulted in the mass murder of Cambodia’s most influential people and innocent civilians. The Khmer Rouge invaded cities and forced people into the country for farm labour. Most were abused and starved. Those who were educated or influential where considered a threat and killed. Speaking another language, being a monk or even wearing glasses would be categorised as a threat to the regime, and result in execution. It’s estimated that over the fours years the regime was in power,  nearly two million Cambodian people where killed. It was very sad to hear, and we felt ashamed at how little we knew about this. There is a memoir about this period of history newly available written by Loung Ung, called “first they killed my father”. This has also been made into film and is available on Netflix.

Dy Proeung buried the sketches and study books for fear of being executed. The Khmer Rouge also destroyed many relics and several of the temples in an attempt to begin a new Cambodia. He was forcibly enrolled in the Khmer Rouge like many of the young men. It was only after the rebel group was disbanded that he was able to resume his career as a stone mason and continue his studies.

Here he stands now in his eighties, continuing to work even now, remaking many historical relics and refurbishing them as well. He has even made miniature versions of Bayon and Banteay Srei. He was a very sweet man who was proud of his craft and of his achievements. He said he had been blessed with a lovely wife and children and as we arrived, was looking after a very sweet little grandson. He spoke some English and had prepared a book with some documents to explain his work in more detail. The only thing they asked for was the 1.50USD/person entry fee to see his work. We would highly recommend this to anyone visiting Siem Reap and it was a lovely way to spend half an hour. This is a modest setting for such a wonderful creation and a talented sculptor, it is literally in his garden.

Once we had concluded our visit we retreated back into the hotel for a delicious dinner and an early bed, ready for our 4am start tomorrow. 

See you at Angkor Wat!!!! Very excited!

Meg and Myky 

Day 17: Vietnam to Cambodia

Travel to siem reap. Notre dame, ho chi Minh statue, McDonald’s and receipt to use loo, airport, meet people catch up with mum. Quick flight, visa stuff, tuk-tuk to hotel.

Today we said goodbye to Vietnam and hello to Cambodia. We still had some time and therefore took the opportunity to catch a few more sites before our flight. Vietnam still has several remnants from the time it was colonized by France. Among the many renaissance buildings present, there is a second Notre Dame in the city, the Notre-dame Catherdral Basilica of Saigob. We walked up to the site only to find it was being renovated, so we wouldn’t be able to see inside. It was a shame, but we still got to enjoy it. It was evidently a more modern take on the famous Parisian cathedral. It’s front entrance was still impressive and its structure is almost identical, with its arched windows and central circular window. Instead of the traditional roof, it was adorned with steeples and made with red brick instead granite. It stands alone in an Island surrounded by other French style buildings, almost as if it has risen up from the ground. We were suprised by how new it appeared to be. Although it was built between 1860-1880, the brick is still vibrant and it’s carvings were immaculate. It was a shame we couldn’t see the stain glass windows inside but, we were glad to catch it when we did. Many of the windows, like in a lot of the buildings, were actually just holes with no glass due to the temperature here.

We attempted a look at the Ho Chi Minh statue, but it was being renovated as well! Of all the luck! Nevertheless, we still got to enjoy the city one last time before we left. 

We gathered our things for our flight to Siem Reap. We were very excited at the prospect of seeing the Angkor Temples. It was a very quick flight, phew! As we landed it seemed a very peaceful scene for an airport. That was short-lived as we entered the airport as passengers were flying left and right to get their visas. We would definitly recommend that you read up on this before you go as the process can take up to an hour if you have everything to hand, and longer if not. 

– A Cambodian Tourist Visa allows you 30 days to travel but can be renewed once at the end of the initial 30 days. It will require some detail as to where you will be staying and when you will be departing, so it helps to have a rough plan of what you would like to do.

– You need 30 USD to pay for the visa and it must be cash. There are cash machines that give you USD as you enter the airport in Siem Reap but they do charge you to withdraw cash. They charge about 5 USD,  so the same as all the other cash machines around.

– you require a passport photo for the Cambodian visa. We found it’s helpful to keep these on you for other destinations as well. They can do it at the airport for you but there is another charge for that.

– make sure you have a pen handy, as we couldn’t see any around and it was only by shear luck that found one in our bag.

– after making sure you have all these items, you must find the form. These are available from the desks, on stands etc at the airport but they disappear fast. Any problems just ask the main desk for a form. Once it’s all filled out along with your paperwork from the flight head to the desk with your money and they will direct you where to wait while they check the details.

– once the desk have confirmed all your details, they will return your documents and you can carry on as you would through immigration. 

-like with most places you need at least six months left on your passport and you need a full page free as the visa takes up a whole page by itself.

We met our tuk-tuk driver, who gave us a very warm welcome and took us to our hotel.  It was very open so our plan was to hold on to our bags like crazy to avoid any accidents but the driver took them off us and rested them just behind him. We were a little worried as it didn’t look that secure but we decided to go with it and just be ready if anything moved. At this point it was 10pm and we were exhausted, and couldn’t see a great deal. We were so relieved to arrive at the hotel, bags intact, the staff were excellent, they got us settled, sorted our room and they even had a pre-prepared list of tours that they offer. These were mainly tours by tuk-tuk, meaning you could hire a tuk-tuk to take you round the sights but they would not be able to act as a guide. Most hotels offer this service in Siem Reap and it makes it so much easier.

Very glad to be in Cambodia and looking forward to seeing the sights.

Meg and Myky

Day 16

So today was the Cu Chi tunnel trip. These were a series of tunnels built underground to hide, initially from the French and later the Americans in the Vietnam war. These were mainly used by the viet cong and not the Vietnamese army themselves. It is basically in the middle of the jungle and was therefore exceptionally difficult for American bombers or even people on the ground to locate. The tunnels were in general very small. As our guide said, ‘Vietnamese are slim and therefore did not need wide tunnels, Americans are fat and therefore they could not fit so the tunnels were a perfect way to get away and gain the advantage’. They created small air tunnels so that they could stay underground for a long time. It was quite difficult at times to get water though. Thankfully the Americans actually tried to flush them out with water and it is said that they were actually very happy with this as they could then have a shower rather than having to go all the way to the river. There were also hiding holes that they could duck into to hide and then come out of at the opportune moment. They had an example of one of these holes that had been made bigger for tourists to try. This was still remarkably small. With a bit of manoeuvring I did manage to get in and close the lid. Meg on the other hand got in quite well, it was getting out that was the problem. In the end myself and a nice New Zealander that we had met had to help to get Meg out of the hole. Meg was not happy with me at all as I had convinced her to do it but she can see the funny side now, naturally I could see it straight away. This is me standing in the hole just to give you an idea of the size.

We then got to walk through one of the tunnels, again made bigger for the tourists. Initially it seemed alright but it got suddenly small and claustrophobic. Meg decided to back out at this time but I perservered. We were following a guide through but once I got inside I couldn’t see anyone and I came to a fork. I had to try and listen to hear where other people had gone to choose the right direction. Thankfully I did and I made it out to the other side. 

We also saw demonstrations of traps that the viet cong had set up inside there tunnels or around the local woods. Some of these were really quite lethal but one thing is for sure, these people were very smart. Lots of these traps involved being impaled on sticks and they looked like they would’ve been very effective.

As part of our tour lunch was being provided once we got back but we didn’t get back until 4.00pm! When we walked into the place for lunch it looked exactly like the kind of place that you don’t want to go for lunch. The food itself did turn out to be pretty good though and we had no reaction to it, it was just not the kind of place that we would’ve chosen.

After that we were feeling thoroughly drained and decided to chill out in the hotel before dinner. We decided to make use of the steam room and hot tub at the hotel and then headed back to the street food market for dinner.

It was really interesting learning about all of this as our history of this part of the world is fairly limited so we have both thoroughly enjoyed it. We’re looking forward to learning more at our next destination of Siem Reap, Cambodia.

See you there,

Myky and Meg

Day 15

So today we had a planned trip to the Mekong delta. Our trips so far had all gone really well and had been really well organised so we were not worried at all. That is until our pick up time came and went. After a little while a young guy did come in and was hovering around so Meg went and spoke to him and he was picking up a couple of people but he had different names. After some more time past, the guy seemed so confused and phoned his manager’s to find out that they had given him the wrong names and that we were the people he was after. We then walked round the corner and had to wait for the bus to arrive. 
Once the bus arrived there were a few familiar faces we recognised. Turns out that a few of the people we had seen on other trips had booked their trips through the same company as us and therefore we were on the same ones, which was a nice surprise. The bus however was not. By the time we got on the bus it was already pretty full so we had the seats right at the back. These were the most cramped seats on the bus and Meg and I were by far the tallest on there. In the cramped conditions the journey seemed longer but took around 90 minutes. 

We were finally off the bus, and our guide took us through the street market to get to our passenger boat. This was huge, and full of a variety of foods. This felt very much like a genuine local market but on a much bigger scale than what we had seen before. We all cringed a bit as we saw many other Vietnamese delicacies up for sale, such as frogs, fish heads, goose feet and much more. The majority of meat up for sale was live, and Meg kept jumping as fish were wriggling in their buckets or as frogs tried to make their escape. 

There we got on a boat and started touring round the Mekong river. Here we saw real functional floating markets, not just ones for the tourists, where locals lived on the boats and traded to other locals from. At the time we went most of the trading had been done, but we saw families relaxing together on the boats and getting ready for trade later in the day.

After that we had the chance to go on a little boat ourselves and we even got to wear the traditional hats, which I think we looked great in. The ride itself was pretty good going through the jungle but our’s was cut a little short as we had been the last to get onto the water.

From there we went to see how some sweets were made from coconut and got a few cheeky samples. This was really good, almost like taffy and was incredibly sweet, but amazingly had no sugar in the recipe. This was all made by hand by a local family using nothing more than one electric mixer and elbow grease. They began making them for people who were ill and eventually grew into a popular treat. We also saw how rice cakes were made through the popping of the rice at high temperatures. From there we had traditional folk music with a performance and some lunch.

When we first saw lunch we found it a bit daunting as right there it the middle of the table was a whole fish. All of us looked at each other and thought the same thing, ‘how do we eat that’. Lots of other food came round though and the fish was taken away to make spring rolls (relief all round) it was initially just there for displaying. The food itself was pretty good though. 

Overall the trip was pretty good but considering the distance we had to travel in the cramped conditions it’s not something that we would do again.

On getting back in to Ho Chi Minh city we needed to find somewhere for dinner. This is when we stumbled upon the street food market. This is a selection of different chefs sharing the same space so that you can get what you like. There was a wide variety of foods from Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, Italian, grills and a variety of others. We decided to get some traditional Vietnamese pho (‘fuh’) and an Indian curry, this was after we found out that none of the places did Vietnamese pancakes (So good!). This was a lovely meal and very reasonably priced too. We only had a certain amount of cash so were on a strict budget but managed to stay well inside that.

Cu Chi tunnels tomorrow so see you there.

Myky and Meg

Day 14

We were sad to say goodbye to Hoi An, We had quite enjoyed it’s food and picteresque town. We really were able to relax and explore. However, we still had more of Vietnam to see and headed off for our sixth flight in 3 weeks (urgh) to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon.

We were picked up at the airport and found that it was another huge bustling city. I have to admit we were getting a little exhausted of our travels and of navigating our way around big cities. Our concerns were put aside once we arrived at the hotel. Our hotel was right the centre of town and opposite a very peaceful park. It was the Elios hotel and was just right for what we needed. In the middle of everything, plenty of food nearby with shops. This wasn’t as crazy as Hanoi city, certainly wasn’t as crammed. There was a lot more things immediately available as a tourist and it was much easier to get around by foot. There are lots of parks in the area which allow you a breather from the busy streets. Our hotel also had breakfast on the top floor allowing a brilliant view of the city, which through Ho Chi Minh in to a much better light. 

We caved and got western food for our lunch and indulged in Pizza and sausages and mash. We explored the city and found a Vietnamese and Korean culture expo, in the park opposite the hotel. This was market stalls celebrating the two cultures, as well as other Asian countries. We stumbled across a stage with a drumming band from Singapore, the Nadi Singapura Drummers. They were great fun, got everyone involved and lifted our spirits no end.

It was a short day for activities but we found it fortunate to stumble across what we had. Looking forward to our tour tomorrow.

Meg and Myky