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Ramblings in South East Asia 2005 - 2006
By: Eric Chilman

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Thursday, 22-Dec-2005 12:00 Email | Share | | Bookmark

Seam Reap was fairly crowded with tourists so I didn't get out to the ruins, but I spent a couple of days wandering around town and along the river before heading back to Phnom Penh for Christmas.

For a buddhist city Phnom Penh has truly found the marketing of Christmas and there were santa suits for sale everywhere. I walked past a school one day about midday and there were about a hundred kids all dressed in santa suits, all lined up in rows - I don't know what it was about but it looked funny. A lot of the cafes and bars promoted it with special Christmas dinners and specials, but there were a few who did their best to ignore it and left everything to run its course without any hoopla. Still the kids enjoyed it - although I was soon sick of being hailed as Santa everywhere I went - maybe I should have a shave.

Anyway it all finishes soon enough and everyone goes back to their normal routines. The party in Asia goes on until after new year with the big celebration being the holidays for new year - Christmas is still a work day.

I had intended to go down through Kampot to Sihanoukville to catch up with a few of the expats I know there, but with the wind still blowing and the cool temperatures I decided to give it a miss. I'm not a great one for swimming and the thought of windy beaches put me off the extra travel involved. Eventually, I booked my flight out of Phnom Penh for Bangkok and escaped one madhouse for another before the new year struck.

Monday, 19-Dec-2005 12:00 Email | Share | | Bookmark

the ubiquitous
town centre and market
the local wat
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From Phnom Penh I took a bus five hours west to Battambang. It is a district capital and if you want to do nothing but take it easy this is the place - the locals seem to be experts at it. The town is centred on the inevitable river and in the afternoons stalls set up beside it and the locals start to gather for an evening meal and beers. It is a great atmosphere and you are always made welcome and ushered into the circle of locals.

There is a really good exhibition of relics from Angkor Wat and other ruins here - well worth a visit as it is usually deserted and you can wander around for hours. I spent a few days in Battambang and then took a boat trip down the river and across the Tonle Sap to Siem Reap. The trip is in a small boat and takes you through the river into canals and then through small channels into the lake and then reverses back through more channels to get to Siem Reap.

Thursday, 15-Dec-2005 12:00 Email | Share | | Bookmark

More french architecture
I love it
but I wish they could spell
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Although not as bad as I had been led to expect, rice paddies on the road to Phnom Penhthe Immigration and Customs at the Vietnamese and Cambodian border are not your western picture of efficiency - it took over an hour to get through and back onto the bus, and this is the express service where the guide sorts all your paperwork and presents it to the Vietnam Customs for you. Apart from that the trip isn't too bad, but I think I would try the boat next time for a more interesting and scenic trip - I just like being on the rivers, I guess.

I lobbed in Phnom Penh early afternoon and headed off to a guesthouse for a quiet night. I had organized with my guest house in Saigon to for them to book a guest house in Phnom Penh for me. They then picked me up at the bus terminal so I didn't need to lug my bag anywhere. The next day I got a cyclo to move to my normal Phnom Penh home right in the centre of town and only a short walk from the river. Phnom Penh is one of my favorite cities in Asia - it has all the amenities you need but doesn't yet have the traffic or other nuisances of many big cities. As I always stay at the same place they let me leave my large bag in the back room when I go off exploring for a few days - I guess they know then that they will get my repeat custom and it saves me a lot of hassle.

It is easy to get around and there are always motodops(motor bike taxis) everywhere who will take you where ever for very little cost. Like Vietnam, road rules are almost non existent and you place your faith in Buddha when you hop on the back of a bike. The surprising thing is that there are relatively few accidents and although it looks like chaos it does sort of work and after a while you don't seem to notice it.

Monday, 12-Dec-2005 12:00 Email | Share | | Bookmark

on the road
you can carry heaps
a river ferry
Back in Saigon again it was time to head off into Cambodia. Although there are good river cruises that go into Phnom Penh I had bought a big swag of cd's and my bag was almost overflowing. I couldn't see me lugging it around on a three or five day tour, so I jumped the express bus from Saigon and onward to Cambodia.

Wednesday, 7-Dec-2005 12:00 Email | Share | | Bookmark

the hydrofoil in action
on the windy side - not real inviting
boats at low tide
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From there I caught the bus back to Saigon and then a hydrofoil down one finger of the Mekong to Vung Tau. The trip down the river is a real eye opener with every sort of boat you can imagine floating around. I only stayed there for the one day and caught the boat back to Saigon again. The wind was blowing so much you couldn't even walk along the beach road without sand stinging your eyes - not real good for a beach resort town, although it would be a good spot in better weather. It has a really good harbor with hundreds of fishing boats of all sizes and in the right season I would probably spend a few days exploring the place -maybe next trip.

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