Tag Archives: Cambodia

Bon Om Touk in Phnom Penh.

I woke up this morning with the sunrise and throwing open my doors I watched as the sun rose over the Mekong River. Definite goose bumps (pimples) moment which was augmented somehow by the atmosphere along the river bank. There seemed to be an air of expectancy about the place, which I couldn’t define but I knew it was there, so, leaving the doors open I went back to bed and listened. The hum grew, there was banging and pounding, beeping of course, but also laughing, shrills voices, faint cheers, boat horns sounding, this was no ordinary start to the day in Phnom Penh. No it was not. It is actually the start of Bon Om Touk, Bon Om Thook, Bonn Om Teuk or Bon Om Tuk. Oh really you say. Yes it is and it is exactly why I came to Cambodia at this time of year. The primary river of Cambodia, the Tonle Sap, does this miraculous thing twice every year. It changes direction. Yes! Really! During most of the year it flows South from the big Lake in the North and joins up with the Mekong here in Phnom Penh. During the rainy season however when the Mekong reaches flood stage the water in the Tonle Sap reverses direction and flows to the North back into the lake. I think that is most unusual and amazing and wanted to see it for myself. I missed it by a matter of days and the TS is now flowing to the South again, but the Cambodians think this is amazing too apparently and there is a huge week long festival, which began in the Twelfth Century, to celebrate the change of direction, it starts today and it is right outside my window.

The schools are closed, the population has the week off, the saffron robed monks are out in force blessing everybody, food booths have sprung up everywhere, the authorities are fencing off the green bits of the riverside park (hence the pounding and banging), the cops are everywhere, lounging on their motorcycles and on the river there are hundreds and hundreds of Dragon boats. Crewed by anything up to eighty rowers these brightly colored racing boats are up to one hundred feet long, many feature an eye on either side of the prow to ward off evil spirits and there will be three days of racing starting on Wednesday. Not only do the rowers face forwards, unlike back home, but there are some boats with all the rowers standing up. Today, and for the next two days there will be practices and elimination rounds. I was due to leave on Tuesday so I quickly remedied that, though getting a riverside room was impossible. There is a rooftop restaurant/bar from which I can watch if the crowds become too much, they anticipate over one million people to attend the fun and games, and this is happening right outside where I am staying. How great is that!

There are other tributes to the river as well, some Holy, like Auk Ambok when the celebrants gather at the Temples at midnight and eat ambok (flattened rice) mixed with banana and coconut. There will be parades along the river featuring illuminated boats during the evenings and apparently everyone gives thanks to the moon in anticipation of a good harvest.

It all sounds pretty fantastic, I stumbled on it by accident and I have only been here for twenty-four hours. I will keep you posted.

Update: I popped out again to see what was happening. Balloon sellers, more food booths, some drumming and the biggest line dance I have ever seen, Cambodian style, there are hundreds of swaying bodies all along the river bank. I have learned a new word “fluvial” as in “fluvial activities”, rivery stuff? I’m sure somebody knows.

Sunrise over the Mekong this morning.

Sunrise over the Mekong this morning.

A section of the riverside park on the banks of the Tonle Sap.

A section of the riverside park on the banks of the Tonle Sap.

Dragon Boats.

Dragon Boats.

More Dragon Boats and look at that horror story of a new hotel in the background. Right at the confluence of the two rivers. Quite ghastly.

More Dragon Boats and look at that horror story of a new hotel in the background. Right at the confluence of the two rivers. Quite ghastly.

Food booth.

Food booth.

Another food booth.

Another food booth.

Another one. OK, enough food booths!

Another one. OK, enough food booths!

Kid's activity apparatus on riverside park.

Kid’s activity apparatus on riverside park.

A young entrepreneur, selling water.

A young entrepreneur, selling water.

Another view of riverside park, just so you know what I am talking about.

Another view of riverside park, just so you know what I am talking about.

Farewell IndoChine.

Well that’s it for IndoChina. What a treat, what a privilege, a big thank you to all the peoples of Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia, you have all been so kind and gracious. Not to mention your great food and cooking.
My five days in the Province of Kampot in the small town of Kep was a welcome break from the big cities, World Heritage Sites, museums, temples but most of all from the pollution and really really bad air quality. It took three days but I finally threw off completely the cold I caught in Hanoi. I did try a Post from Kep, alas still unfinished but will try for a successful completion at some point, but the power was unreliable and the web connection kept crashing. I have to say though that I couldn’t actually come up with too much to say that would be of much interest to anyone. The days passed far too quickly, breakfast became lunch, the afternoon into a siesta, tea became dinner and then it was all over and it was sleep time. Apologies to the squeamish but my sleep mates were wide and varied ! There was a dog outside my room every night despite changing rooms three times during the five day stay. Very large geckoes were constant companions both in and outside the room, there were toads and frogs kicking up a shindig for most of the night. I don’t really want to tell of the spiders and ants that marched about the rooms and the monkeys who screeched and yelled for most of the night, at least I suppose they were monkeys.
I think I may have mentioned the food, peppercorns, still attached to their vine, fried up and served with just about everything. The crab, the prawns, Lok Lak (a Khmer traditional beef dish), every meal was an exploration of my taste buds and an event to anticipate.
All too soon it came to an end and I was back on a tuk tuk to the bus station and the ride back to PP. Scheduled for 12.30 pm departure we were all still hanging about in the heat until about 2.00, will it come? Is that it? Where is it? Did we miss it? All the usual anxieties. Got to chatting with a Canadian gent, odd how they are always so easy to chat with, he from Vancouver Island and raised an eyebrow when I mentioned Victoria. Its good to get around a bit. Bus eventually came, another double decker, and I successfully found seat thirteen (angst) and who should settle in beside me but the Canadian. How do you do says I , Tim, no, he says, that’s who I am too. Not an Aries, but we had a most entertaining ride to PP. We ranged from the ten thousand hour rule, which dictates that to be really good at anything you have to have practiced same for said amount of hours to his six minute rule. I might try it.
Back home he specializes in emergency management at disaster sites and was in Cambodia with his wife and family researching for a magazine article she was writing on the indentured servant racket that is so prevalent in this country. Nice guy, we shared a tuk tuk to hotel row and off he went to find his family, funny to think he might be reading this. (hello Tim McLeod).
Not a very good evening as it was already getting late, did some gift shopping, Kramas (Khmer accessory), silk scarves, more pepper, a t shirt for me etc. went to the Foreign Correspondents Club, the FCC, for dinner and turned in early. That was the plan. Turned out the room had three extremely noisy extracta fans which I couldn’t figure how to disable. Called reception, first one, then two, then three hotel handy men came avisiting. Climbing on chairs, plunging the room into darkness, every switch, knob, dial, remote was brought into the scenario. Finally at about ten thirty I called a halt, herded them out and spent a largely sleepless night wearing my noise canceling headphones.
A 5am wake up call, 6am cab to airport, and this 8.30 flight. Oh yawn.
A break there for a read.
Right then, India for tea. Major expletive! Doodling over my 5.30 am cup of tea I made a couple of notes. I think one of the first books I remember reading was Kipling’s Just so Stories, so finally I am going to the land of Mowgli, Shere Khan, Bagheera and Baloo, O Best Beloved (s). I remember reading about the terrible famines and the tragedy of Partition. Plus of course the Bonzo Dog’s Hunting Tigers out in India!
I am on my way, have I planned sufficiently, am I prepared, time will tell I guess. If all goes to plan the next Post will be from Kochi (old Cochin) in the State of Kerala. More from there.

Some views of Kep.

One of the hotel dogs who slept outside my room all night.

My little house at Kep Lodge, the one on the right.

A Kep crab boat seen through a restaurant.

Restaurant Row in Kep, water side.

Part of the crab boat fleet.


Poignant evidence remains of Pol Pot’s madness.

More evidence. I am sure these relics will be demolished soon as this region is developed.

Crab pots.

Inspecting the catch.

Preparing the catch. Mine was prepared with the local pepper. Delicious but finicky.

Restaurant Row in Kep, land side.

Back to the hotel, this is the driveway. Not exactly smooth, as I found out from the back of a motor scooter after accepting a ride.

Getting away from it all.

The Kep Bus.

On the bus to Kep, where ever the heck that is. Shamefully ignorant of the geography of Cambodia, I admit I didn’t even know it had a coastline, but it does and that is where I am bound. The bus is ok, a double decker with luggage and baggage on the lower, passengers on the upper. Eleven rows set in a two and one configuration, I am in a one that is slightly raised up above the rest, feels a bit throne like, but at least I can see out the front from six rows back. The seats are tolerably comfortable though an easy comparison with cattle class on BA, that goes for the legroom as well, there basically isn’t any. Fellow passengers appear to be two thirds Cambodian and one third Westerners. A French family with two young children, a couple from the boat down from Siem Reap, German I think, can’t ignore the cutest little Cambodian newborn you ever did see, not uttered a sound in over an hour. The terrain is flat, very very flat. The ground is dry, the rice paddies all shrivel led and stalks, dead and grey. There are occasional orchards with oranges growing and of course palms with coconuts. It will get hotter and hotter until the end of April and then the monsoon will break, much to the relief of all. The road is a good road, two lanes with a well kept surface, pleasantly smooth. The Highway code/rules of the road are completely non existent however. Small town markets spill onto the highway reducing it to one lane, down the middle. There is a bike, motor scooter lane but it seems to be not much used and the bus driver leans on the horn constantly. ……We paused for refreshments etc and have turned off the main road to Kompot onto a narrow jungle road , just about as wide as the bus. Passing pull outs, dusty, acres and acres of dried up paddies, random roadside stalls, locals dig trench across road in villages to slow the traffic, white cattle seek shade. There are hills ahead, the Coastal Range ?
We came to Kep, a dusty crossroads with maybe half a dozen tuk tuks, a cafe, tourist information office and that was about it for Kep downtown. A ten minute ride to the base of a low hill and here I am, all checked into my room, sitting in the thatch roofed restaurant of the Lodge. A small pool in front, a small pool table behind, a well stocked bar, piles of books and games, a beer (thank you) ,lunch on its way, spiced beef with ginger and rice, learning about Kampot pepper. Grown locally it seems to be the pride of the district, “Highly prized by gourmets worldwide”. (Nat, you heard of this stuff ?)
Lunch was great, best food I have had in Cambodia, and then I succumbed to the pressures of the day and fell fast asleep for an hour. I think I may have finally found my spot. First thing I notice sitting poolside is the lack of noise, there is no traffic, the nearest road is a half mile away, no motor scooters, no beeping. There is no pollution, no people in my immediate vicinity wearing smog masks. I may finally completely throw off the lingering cold I caught in Hanoi. We are a matter of yards from the entrance to a nature reserve, the air is full of the sound of birdsong, in fact the jungle threatens to encroach on the whole property. There will be some strange and unfamiliar sounds tonight I am sure. The hotel posts warnings about geckos, bats and frogs in the rooms, also that the spiders are not poisonous and are rather shy, good to hear.

The Hotel reception, lobby, dining room, lounge, bar, business center and activities room.

I may have finally worked out how to add photos and captions to a post using just my tablet and the WordPress blogging App. Finally. Goodbye Business Centers.

Let’s see what the evening brings.

Phnom Penh for a day.

I don’t think I have ever said “no thank you” so often, I am hoarse with no thank you. Every step of the way in Phnom Penh (now referred to as PP) it’s the same refrain “tuk tuk sir?”. Honestly the guy has to see that actually I just got off a tuk tuk, why on earth would I need another one five seconds later.
I did sleep in this morning, all the way until 8.30am, that was a treat. Breakfast in the hotel looked somewhat expensive so took a ride to the recommended venue promoted by guide book, unfortunately it is no longer in business, or we couldn’t find it so jumped out at the first sign of eggs. Just as an aside, I really find it offensive to be unable to avoid hearing about the exploitation of the local female population over breakfast, sleaze bags.
Sorry. To continue. Totally messed up, thought I would go to the Royal Palace before lunch so jumped in a tuk tuk, off we went only to discover it’s closed for lunch, 11.00 to 2.30, that is quite some Royal Lunch. Sat in cafe and drank water, tried to Skype younger son. Passed the time. Time dragged. Come on….
2.30 and I was at the gate, very impressive Royal Palace. All gold, silver, temples, Buddha’s,beautiful woodwork, bas reliefs ( for Barbara),great gardens and monks and cameras, lots of cameras. round I went. There are some photos, I added to the previous post Arrived Phnom Penh.
I had heard or read about the Russian Market so that was the next stop. Warnings in book about claustrophobia, no kidding. If the aisles between the stalls were three foot wide I would be surprised. After about ten minutes I really felt overwhelmed and left. Another aside, the local kids have made an art of mimicking the sounds from Angry Birds (a game) it is quite amazing, listen, someone is playing Angry Birds, look round and these young kids are having convulsions of hysterical laughter. Really quite clever.
So then I went to the Tuol Sleng museum. Well you don’t think about Cambodia without thinking of Pol Pot and his murderous four year regime do you ?. In the year 1975 he and his bunch of thugs evacuated this entire city, enslaving the population into tilling the land. It was quite ghastly. Ladies were openly weeping in the courtyard.
I was very sad.

Arrived Phnom Penh

Confluence of Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers in Phnom Penh.

Surely not !

This is the bank of the Mekong not the Test ! (Test River Hampshire England, home of excellent Sunday lunch)

The Royal Palace.

More Royal Palace.

The Regulation “Guy on a Horse”. There always is, I find.

Quite quiet here considering it is Sunday afternoon.

A bas relief I think.

bas relief detail.








Angkor Wat.

I did it. I answered the 4.45am alarm call and was present, correct and sober in the lobby at 5.15. Jumped into car, driven by hotel employee, and sped off into the darkness. Not many people around at that time of the morning, in fact it was obvious that the only ones around were making the same pilgrimage, couples in tuk tuks, couples on bicycles, others in cars. It’s not far to the main gate where I bought a three day pass, $20.00, then on again, into the darkness. Parked in massive lot, will I ever find this white Camry again, and clutching water, camera, flashlight and ticket joined the silent throng moving to who knows where. Across what looked like a bridge, upstairs, downstairs and then it seemed we were in a massive theater like field. The flashes from cameras, the flashlight beams, the low chatter was vaguely reminiscent of waiting for the main act at an outdoor music festival. The best viewing area appeared to be in front of some sort of pond but not wishing to fall in I took a spot on the edge of the crowd and began the wait.
Dawn broke, a light pink, tried a couple of shots with the flash but all I got were photos of the grass in front of me! Waited a little bit longer and suddenly, there it was, that iconic view, the three towers, all clearly visible. I waited for the roar of the crowd, didn’t happen, this was not a rock festival even if it felt like one. Took lots of pictures of other people who asked me to, as one does, someone took my photo with my camera but I haven’t put it up for you to see. (family pressure may change that) Hey, we are talking 5.30am here, not looking my best, also I looked at my three day pass photo, not flattering.
I made my way to the Temple not entirely sure what to expect. It is so tremendously vast that even if all the dawn watchers had descended en mass there might be one person per acre. Actually they didn’t, I wonder where they all went. It had an eerie deserted feel, not at all spooky, but just this huge feeling of space, massive space. Sitting in a corner observing the central area, with the towers, I could take it all in without being disturbed by people, I moved to each of the four corners and the feeling was the same, tranquility springs to mind. Quite inspirational.
Angkor Wat is old, very old, even to a jaded Euro like me, we are talking eleventh/twelfth century here, these rocks have seen a lot. I was amazed, fascinated, impressed, overwhelmed, enchanted, charmed.
I did find the white Camry again and fell into the seat somewhat stunned, speechless, and just a little bit dazed. A reviving cup of tea and we were off, there are many many temples around Siem Reap, all related to Angkor, built at a similar time. More of those later.
Hope you like the photos.


Angkor Wat at Dawn.

First view

There it was, that iconic sight in the pink dawn.

Would love to edit out the bottom of this photo. Just ignore it.

That is not my tablet !

The light got brighter, the subject clearer.

Daylight now.

Quite a lot of people gathered to watch the dawn

Look at that, a hot air balloon rising over the main gate.

I was getting carried away with camera angles. Like it ?

Definitely what I came for.

Managed to get all four towers but lost the light.

A very big and long Bas Relief

A tiny detail from very long Bas Relief

There were many Bas Reliefs. Don't worry I am not going to get all Bas Relief nerdy on you.

There were monkeys around and about.

There is a very big moat all the way round Angkor Wat.

Another view of the moat.

The main Gate into Angkor Wat complex, well one of four. Not designed for today's traffic.

Arrival in Siem Reap

To Cambodia we go, me and all the other holiday-makers from all round the World. So many different languages in the departure lounge at Luang Prabang it was a veritable Tower of Babel. Now we are on a prop plane 20,000 feet over the border with about thirty minutes to go.
I took the opportunity to revisit the alms giving/receiving ceremony at dawn this morning and discovered the cunning plan behind the chaos I beheld that first morning. Now that I know my way around town better I got off the bus at an earlier point than previously and cut down the back alleys to a street that parallels the great seething mass. Ha ha, local residents lined the sidewalk complete with rice baskets, ready for the procession and not a camera in sight. This then is the secret, avoid the chaos on Sisavangvong Road, this is presumably where the City Fathers want the cameras to go, and go one street over, towards the Mekong. You will have the street to yourself, well apart from the residents and the monks. I hope some photos come out (do we still say that?) as the sight of that Saffron ribbon heading down the street, unhindered, was mesmerizing.
Onward to Siem Reap, the gateway to the largest religious building in the World, Angkor Wat. I was greeted on arrival at the airport by the hotel’s tuk tuk driver and we headed off on the 7 km drive into town. First impressions, it’s hot, it’s wet, it’s dusty, it’s noisy, it bustles, there is food, everywhere, it is amazingly inexpensive, it looks like it just fell down and is being rebuilt. I absolutely love it. Oh,and holiday makers sitting with their feet in fish tanks!

This seems to be the thing to do, a fish pedicure.

A fish pedicure. A tuk tuk ride from the hotel to the restaurant area is a dollar, after which you would be hard pressed to spend more than ten dollars for a meal. There is great shopping, I saw some very attractive silk pashminas. I want a hat and a bag to carry stuff around, like a shopping bag. So back to the market after completing this.
Up again before dawn tomorrow and spend the day with a tuk tuk driver and a guide book. See the sun come up, walk about, take photos, hope to understand why the complex was built and how it has survived all these centuries. It is the chronological twin of Chartres, Winchester, and other European cathedrals.
Sorry if I sounded a bit blue last evening but it was Valentine’s day and I had hardly spoke to a soul all day.
Better now.