Phnom Penn Temples

Wat Ounalom  was big yet I only discovered it when I saw it online tourist research and went in search.  It was ’round the corner’ from where I ate most nights, had looked for hotels (in fact, that may be how I discovered it!) .  It is in the centre of the city, near Sisowath Quay where I sat most evenings, wandered along and just a short walk from the Royal Palace of Cambodia which is also worth a look although this costs to get into, and may not be open every day (!!!)  As I was sightseeing, I was told by one tuk tuk driver that it was closed for the day – I later learned this wasn’t true, and they do this to get you to buy their trips that often aren’t great!

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When I saw it it looked ancient, grey and worn and I was so excited to explore!   I wasn’t disappointed … As the seat of Cambodian order of monks, it is the most important wat and the center of Cambodian Buddhism. Established in 1443 with 44 structures that are interesting, with soldier statues, and it seemed ‘closed’ so I just wandered around.

An old man who took me into a tiny cubby hole, sprinkled me with ‘holy water’ and lit a stick in front of a small gold Buddha  – I knew he expected paying for this, even though I hadn’t asked (been able to ask) for it – a new experience, unexpected, real and interesting!

Damaged during the Khmer Rouge period it has since been restored –  the main complex has a stupa that contains what is believed to be an eyebrow hair of Buddha which I didn’t bother to look up!  These abound in Asia!

Other sightseeing

The palace grounds are hot, with no seats and soldiers on guard as it is a working palace, so not unexpected.  Expensive for what it was but one of the things to do, as is a visit to the museum not far from there either, and a lovely building!

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Watching the people live their lives on the boats moored below the Quay where they live poor lives and thieve to survive!  I even saw this – a student stopped to chat with me, telling me I wasn’t safe on the quayside, then found his motorcycle helmet had been stolen off the bike near us (although I hadn’t seen him arrive!) but I had seen one of the boys off the boat with one …ooops!

I was aware of the beggars and thieves around me, relaxed but watchful and able to dash across the walkway and road back to the safety of my hostel, owned and run by an Australian guy who was very nice and friendly.

One night, I couldn’t access my money from the bank transfer having been delayed, and then even through the money transfer shops I had seen but didn’t realise what they were until I needed one, and that took a day to sort!   I had nothing for food, so had to go back and ask for a nights money back, cancelling it and hoping I could sort it that day later if needs be!  Anyway, as it was, I moved on then.

I did take a tuk tuk ride and it was fantastic, bless him cycling round in that heat, taking care of my bag and telling me to hide/hold it close, and a long ride, very cheap so I gave him a little more money!

He was a nice person, compared to some other rude and rough ones I wouldn’t trust!

Lost money

I did lose my purse here – and some say it was stolen by the well-known stealthy thieves there, but I think I dropped it when I got a scarf from my bag, to cover my burning back as I walked down the front, to a temple I wanted to see.  When I got there, a guard chased me to get my $1 entry and then I realised I’d lost it!  I went back to the travel agent to see if I left it on the desk – unsure if he would be honest anyway, but £60 lost!  I can and did only hope it went to help some of the many children like Fagin’s children in Oliver Twist!

From Phnom Penh I travelled by boat up the river to Siem Reap ….

 

 

Travelling Siem Reap ..

This, for me, is what travelling is about – meeting people, making connections, making new friends and contacts and learning about other cultures.  And here I certainly have!!

imageSome people make an impression for different reasons, some you bond with, have a deeper connection with, others just in passing but all have an impact on you and your travel experience!!

 Arriving late afternoon on Thursday, I found the hostel from the boat trip, by tuk tuk trip, where many tuk tuk drivers vied for our business, filled their vehicles with people and bags before trundling, bouncing and banging back into the town, about half hour ride away.   Under a hot, relentless sun in baked dirt roads and pot-holed tarmac on occasion.

 Once there, after my ‘negotiation’ for next day’s temple tour, I found the pool clean and inviting!  The gardens lovely – cool and relaxing, tables and chairs, an open air café area by the bar, with travellers sitting and wandering around the area, and three young children in the pool.

The people in the bar area means there’s chance to meet others and again, I was excited to see that opportunity.  Great so far!!

 As I booked in at the bar, a young blond guy sat there caught my eye and nodded and of course I respond with nod and smile back. It begins – connection. 

Later when I’d settled in to my luxury room for just £10 a night (double bed, en suite bathroom small but clean, tiled floor and walls, wooden door and cabinets – so much for so little!  I changed for a swim and found a table to by the pool, somewhere to leave my sarong, bag and towel, and then stepped into the warm, blue water, for a cool dip!! Oh yes!! Perfect.  Relaxing.  Cool!

Stopping at the side the just chill, I caught his eye again and smiled, and we got chatting.  This is how easy it is to meet new people, and learn so much!  We talked about the swimming, his reading, and then when I got out, went to sit with him.

He turned out to be Patrick, a Dutchman (and again, such nice, friendly and conversational people who are interesting and interested!).   Our conversation developed, chit chat about travel plans then our various experiences, places visited and aimed for, and then more personal details like names and dreams, then deeper still into who you are and what makes you tick!  Clearly, with his book we had similar interests and outlooks.  He was reading The Art of Happiness which I then downloaded to also read, being a fan of the Dalai Lama and personal development!

I love the sharing, the honesty and openness of these new relationships, the trust and real interest we have in each other.  Patrick later showed me around the town ‘taking me out for dinner’ and showing me around – we ate street noodles on the edge of the park, by the road, along with a multitude of locals, tourists and travellers alike!

The noodles were cheap and delicious, we wandered around, down Pub Street (yes, really!) we laughed, watched, commented and talked, walked here and there, around the bustling evening market and restaurants – and of course pubs and bars, the stalls with food and sweets, cake and candy, toys and sarongs – anything and everything!  Under a dark night, bright lights, music and conversation, it was fun and lively, and I had great company too!

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We even tried snake together, after seeing the stalls with bugs to eat he showed me, and said he wanted a go!!  He would later venture into crickets and a huge cockroach with another fellow traveller later in the week, but snake was enough for me and something I had always wanted to try.   (I know you’ll ask so it tasted like burned bacon to be honest as it was a small snake and burned to a crisp, curled on a skewer – but at least I tried it!)

Patrick introduced me to Monica from France, who was here volunteering in a children’s charity, A Life, and she took both him on the Saturday to also help out, feeding the children and families in the water-borne villages at the edge of the city, and then me the Monday for a day in the town where children came from school to eat the food we had prepared, cooked and served them with.  Groups of familiar faces to the charity, one or two new ones, babies and parents who took home whatever was left.  One family, mum, daughter about 10 and baby about 9 months old, rode back kilometres on a push bike, both children on the back baggage rack!  

 

iem Reap was hot in the daytime, warm at night and always busy and bustling.  About a 30 minute walk from the hostel, I eventually found my way which Patrick tested me on as we walked back, because I’d said I always got lost and rarely able to get my bearings easily wherever I travelled!

Becki and Monica at Siem Reap 2015

It was the day after I saw Bex was in town too, who I’d met in Don Det, Laos weeks before, so we arranged to meet up and spent a few days at the temples, shopping and eating together too.  

So it becomes a group, gathering for conversation, drinks or dinner.   Over the few days and nights there, I met a few other people, shared talk, meals and journey plans, history and future dreams and many a chuckle with the likes of Brent, who at first I didn’t take to but later found he had such a dry sense of humour – and we remain in touch on Facebook, and even invites to share a place to stay in far flung places in future if required (Egypt in this instance!)  We shall see …