7th - 17th October (Visa fiasco)
My last day in Mui Ne, i awoke at 07.00, ran on the beach (very briefly),
then watched some locals paddling out to sea in upturned tea cups, pulling in the nets and sorting through all the fish and crabs. Booked a flight online from Siam Reap(Cambodia) to Kuala Lumpur(Malaysia) for the 17th Oct., took a bus to HCMC, booked an 8 dollar room and watched the premiership goals from last week. I booked a two day tour to end in Phnom Penh for 24 dollars and later watched 'School of Rock' and the first half shambles of England against Macedonia.
The tour took us by bus to Cai Be for a motorised boat on the Mekong - the heat and fumes on the boat sent me to sleep. Lunch, then back on the boat and bus to Chau Doc on the border where we stayed the night in a cheap hotel - I had to share a room with a Japanese chap who started a brief high pitched wailing in the middle of the night. I met a Canadian girl called Siobahn.
In the morning there was a row boat tour of the Chau Doc fish farms (see how these women row whilst facing forward - weird!) then a big boat to Lek Luang (Cambodia). The tour leader checked the passports and told me i would pay a big fine for overstaying my visa (not what the travel agent had said!) and that i should go back to HCMC to sort it out. At the border, the tour leader said they were unable to process my fine and i would have to return to HCMC and there was nobody i could argue with so i was getting quite frustrated. At the last minute they took 60 dollars, plus 20 for the Cambodia visa and i was just relieved to not have to go back. Arrived in Phnom Penh in the rain and went with Siobahn to Spring hotel recomended in the lonely planet - it worked out cheaper to get a twin room with air con. We walked to Chaay Heng restaurant also recommended in the lonely planet, a basic place with plastic chairs spilling onto the pavement packed with locals. The food was cheap and fantastic, we went again the next night. I bumped into Ben and Kate who I'd met in Hoi An so went for red wine with them.
Siobahn and I went via tuk tuk to the S21 museum and killing fields in the rain along the bumpiest road ever.
S21 was once a school, it became a prison, and now a museum.
The Khmer rouge were meticulous in their records of prisoners and the black and white photos of all the men, women and children they killed were haunting. The rain and thunder added to the sombre mood of the day. 8,985 bodies were exhumed from mass graves at the killing fields, possibly 2 million were killed across the country. I can't really describe it, you just have to see it to believe it. There were beggers with missing limbs and one with a badly burnt face outside S21. Siobahn and I spent 20 dollars on a 50kg bag of rice which we took to an orphanage where we played with the kids for a few hours - they stole my camera and took loads of photos.
It was nice to spend time around these poor kids laughing and playing after such a depressing day.
The six hour bus journey to Siam Reap cost 4 dollars - we were pounced on by tuk tuk drivers before we could even get off the bus, all shouting over each other with arguments like "I spoke to you first" for the sake of a dollar fare. Of course they want to get you into their hotel and also provide you with a lucrative tour of Angkor. We went to the 'Heart of Angkor' hotel, 12 dollars for a twin room and booked our motorbike riders for the next 2 days (it is illegal to hire your own motorbike here). Siam Reap seems very nice with smart little bars and restaurants clustered together in a street that is off limits to the local begging community of kids, women with babies and people with missing limbs. There is a lot of begging here.
An 05.00 wake up for an Angkor Wat sunrise that was obscured by cloud despite the generally clear, hot day.
My 1 week pass cost 60 dollars. Angkor Wat was very busy and absolutely massive but I was more impressed with Bayon
(giant faces carved into the stone) and Ta Prohm where trees grow amongst the ruins and Angelina Jolie came to film tomb raider.
There are many ancient temples to explore, dating from ninth to 13th century - miraculously spared by US bombs, how refreshing!
There are kids at every stop, selling t-shirts, postcards and souveniers or just begging, they are really persistent.
On the way back i saw this... Later we went to the excellent Khmer kitchen then i went for a 'seeing hands massage', recommended by the lonely planet for massage by blind people - it was excellent and only cost 4 dollars, I gave her five just because I am that kind of guy!
The next day we had a more civilised start time and the sights were mostly not as impressive. The heat was oppressive with very little shade. We finished up at a high spot near to Angkor Wat to watch the sun set. With bright sun in the west and dark clouds moving in quickly from the east, the sun was soon covered and the rain was heavy. I'm pretty sure one clap of thunder and lightning were less than 100 metres away - pretty lucky for Friday 13th! I had my waterproof coat but my walking shoes were soon soaked through. I took a couple of photos which i think damaged my camera which now doesn't work properly. I bumped into Michael and Aine who I'd met briefly in Hoi An and Mui Ne so we went out for food and drinks with them later. We went to Dead Fish bar where we fed the crocodiles.
The next day Siobahn went off on a motorbike, I lazed about for a bit then hired a mountain bike for 3 dollars. I found the land mine museum, a Khmer heritage display and then went to Angkor Wat again. The lense on my camera has stopped working, i have since had a quote of about 50 pound to get it fixed so i will continue to hold open the slidey thing with a tooth pick every time i turn it on! I have started to find Siobahn quite annoying in a "there was this one time, at band camp....." kind of way. On Sunday I had a lovely roast chicken dinner at the Irish pub and spent most of the day reading and watching tv. The most noteworthy adventure was that the bathroom door handle was faulty so that when i went in for a shower i managed to lock myself in, i must have been banging on the door and walls for about ten minutes before the hotel bloke came to let me out. I met up with Ben and Kate in a restaurant/bar where the beers are 25c if you buy food. I had spring rolls, ginger chicken and 10 draught beers for 6 dollars - bargain! We discussed high brow issues such as poverty and corruption.
At 07.00 a motorbike was waiting to take me to three of the further afield sights;
Beng Melea are excellent overgrown ruins, Kbal spean is a waterfall and river with rock carvings and lingas in and beside the river - the road here was terrible and not really worth the effort, and Bantay Srei made from red stone with some intricate carvings.
Next day, i went to burn a cd but the memory card was corrupted again - i managed to get most of it back again in Kuala Lumpur which is where i flew to today. At the airport i found i had to pay an extra 25 dollars in airport tax, the price of the flight now is making me wish i had gone overland through Thailand, i could have climbed at Rayley beach again. Despite studying the lonely planet, i haven't got a clue what to do in Malaysia or Singapore. In Kuala Lumpur (KL), the public transport seems pretty good, the food is cheap (but i did get food poisoning from the KFC) and the hostel is cheap and nasty! Beer is expensive, from 6R (1 pound) in a shop to 14R in a street restaurant. I watched waterworld in the hostel commen area whilst trying to plan my next move.