The end of our time on the peaceful island of Don Kong was signalled by the most glorious sunrise. After welcoming the new day, we enjoyed a delicious breakfast whilst listening to the soothing sounds of the Mekong gently lapping against the pillars of the restaurant where we were eating. Fully relaxed and refreshed, we made the short cycle to catch the ferry back to the mainland and pick up the road that would take us into Cambodia. On arrival at the border, we paid the $2 'official bribe' to the customs official on leaving Laos followed by a further $1 to have our temperature taken and fill in a medical health questionnaire on entering Cambodia. The visa itself cost $25 and before we knew it, we were cycling in country number 17 of our trip with a shiny new 'sticker' in our passport!
Much like Laos, Cambodian roads were quiet, paved and a pleasure to cycle on. The landscape was pretty, although large areas of forest have been cleared, largely as a result of the illegal logging trade that is still rife here. Often when we stopped for refreshment breaks, the sound of distant chainsaws could be heard. It was a sad sound to hear and, judging by the very open way in which it is carried out, not policed with much authority.
People continue to welcome us, as we cycle through their villages, with beaming smiles and cries of "bye-bye" and "hello"...weirdly in that order?! Cambodians seem to be a bit more gregarious than the Laotian people: our presence is invariably met with a groups of children (and often adults too) trying to have a bit of a laugh and banter with us. Perhaps it's because more people seem to speak a little English and are keen to practice whenever they can.
Our first stop was in the town of Stung Treng...a scruffy and busy market town. We checked into a clean but basic guesthouse and went in search of some food. Street food was everywhere: fried noodle and rice dishes, pasta and noodle soups and plenty of barbecued meat. Colourful fresh fruit stalls in the market offered healthier options too! Food has been great so far in Cambodia. We've enjoyed trying Amok (fish-based curry with rice), devoured baguettes filled with meat, salad and sweet chilli sauce, minimised our intake of noodle soup (especially as the meat isn't always easy to identify and I'm not convinced that some of the 'pork' has ever seen a pig!), snacked on moon-cakes, bananas and peanuts and quenched our thirst with freshly squeezed sugarcane juice and coconut water.
From Stung Treng, we caught the river ferry across the Mekong to Thalabarivat where we started heading west towards Siem Reap. Initially, the road was stone and gravel, but it soon metamorphosed into a nicely paved surface and we were cycling at a good pace. Our proposed destination for day one didn't appear to have any obvious accommodation options and, rather than asking around, we decided to keep cycling to a larger town where we knew there would be guesthouses. The temperatures were pushing into the mid 30s with very high humidity, so we were very grateful when an ice cream seller approached from the opposite direction. We flagged him down and enjoyed an odd but refreshing combination of baguette filled with condensed milk and ice cream!
On our fourth day in Cambodia, we arrived into Siem Reap (earlier than originally planned) and were relieved to discover that we would be able to have our first hot shower in this country! The staff at Green Park Village Guesthouse (where we have stayed) are incredibly friendly and have made us feel very welcome. They booked our onward travel (by boat) to Battambang and seemed genuinely interested to hear how each day went when we returned in the afternoon. If anyone reading this is heading to Siem Reap in the near future and looking for somewhere to stay, for $10 a night (including breakfast) I'd be amazed if you could find anything better.
Our stay in Siem Reap was never going to be a restful one! We planned to spend three days exploring many of the temples of Angkor. We had already stopped off at Bang Mealea on our way into the city: a wonderful place to feel like a true explorer, where nature has taken over the temple and visitors are given (pretty much) free reign to wander wherever they dare to venture! A couple of hours of clambering, slipping, swinging and jumping left us feeling like Indiana Jones! It had certainly whetted our appetites to explore more of the regions historical sites.
The main temples of Angkor are spread out over a wide area (we covered 134km over the three days) and we had a great time cycling along tree-lined roads on our luggage-free bikes, stopping to visit various temples as and when we found them. Every temple visit is also coupled with a host of street vendors trying to sell drinks, scarves, t shirts and trinkets! Some are very persistent and whilst it could become annoying, we appreciated that they were just trying to make a living and actually found it quite funny hearing the same questions wherever we went: "You want cold driiiiink, sir?"..."two for one dollaaaaar." Phrases that will stick in our heads for weeks to come no doubt! We quickly learnt that a polite but firm "no thank you!" (Always with a big smile) was usually enough to get the message across. Any reply that suggested the slightest degree of interest would lead to awkward moments where we were made to feel as if promises had been broken.
The temples are incredible. I won't bore you by talking about them individually in great detail! Suffice to say, every single one had a charm and character all of its own. We left Angkor Wat until the afternoon of day three and it was an awesome spectacle to behold. Such an iconic building right before our very eyes! The sheer scale of the complex represents an awesome feat of engineering and it is such a breathtaking building to explore with its gothic turrets, long cloisters and amazing bas-reliefs. Being there was an uplifting, awe-inspiring and ultimately moving experience.
Tomorrow we catch the slow boat to Battambang. Yes, we could have cycled but we decided that experiencing some of Cambodia's waterways was an opportunity not to be missed! It'll no doubt be a wonderful experience and one that we are both very excited about. We have even been told by our guesthouse manager that breakfast will be waiting for us at 5.45am so that we can eat before we are whisked away to the ferry port by bus. marvellous!
Love and hugs. X