A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: chrisvasil

Update Dec 4-20 Laos, Cambodia

Published Jan 2
Since then we spent 10 days in Vietnam, and have been in China since Dec 28.
We spent Christmas in Vietnam in a hotel with Internet. I had coffee and didn't sleep the night of the 25th...
We spent New Years in Kunming, and fell asleep before midnight.
Now travelling with Sue's mom for most of the month, then we'll be living with her family until after Chinese New Year, at which point I go back home (she probably follows a bit later).

Posted by chrisvasil 07:16 Comments (0)

Siam Reap - The temples of Angkor Wat

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Our hotel in Siam Reap was the best ever - $5 a night for a really fancy room in a hotel that offers free laundry just as we were running out of clothes. Victory Guest House. Awesome.

Siam Reap itself is mostly pleasant, a modern city with several old markets but not many sights to be seen. We were a bit tired for a lot of our time in the city because we had tried some 'happy' pizza with traditional Cambodian ingredients that have that effect. Not very happy though, and we won't be having any of that again. Here are a market, Univeristy of South East Asia, and happy Sue.

We used bicycles to go around Angkor Wat and the surrounding area, which is a few kilometers out of town and has dozens of thousand-year old temples. We biked about 30 kilometers, about 5 of which were because the site is very poorly laid out - there is only one ticket issuing booth for the entire complex (which is the size of a city), and that booth is 4km away from Angkor Wat. So after getting to Angkor Wat we had to turn around, go down a different road, and get tickets. I started by myself to get 2 tickets, but after 5 minutes of cycling one of the site officials tracked me down and told me to wait because they need to take our pictures, and another official told Sue to also go to the ticket booth. I saw her coming down the street a few minutes after that, and we went to get the tickets together. As usual my attempt at gallantry failed, but at least I didn't have to go and come back emptyhanded.

Here's us at Angkor Wat. It's a nice temple complex, though more impressive from the outside than the inside.

Off we go to the next stop. This is Angkor Thom, the next temple complex, a few kilometers past Angkor Wat. Within the walls are a half-dozen temples.

Finally we went to Ta Prohm - certainly the coolest of the temples. It was left to jungle while most others were restored, so trees grow improbably on rooftops and have roots straddling walls. This is where Tomb Raider and some other similar movies were shot, and really captures much of what the imagination conjures up when thinking of 'ruins'.

Posted by chrisvasil 07:23 Archived in Cambodia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Phnom Penh - Floating Island Guesthouse sucks sucks sucks

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Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, is a big city with some charm but not too much to do. We spent 2 short sejourns in the city, as I had to get my China visa. We were meaning to do 2 days then 2 days, but cut the first stay short short because of a bad experience with the guest house we stayed at. That ended up being for the best, as it allowed it an extra day in Siam Reap (I needed to be back Friday to pick up the passport from the consulate, otherwise we'd have stayed at the fancy hotel even more than 3 days).

Basically it was an ok budget place, but the staff was extremely rude. When we were looking at the place we were told there was wireless internet and hot showers. There was no internet (he told us that night that it's available until 8pm, and the next morning he said it's at a place down the street), and I took a cold shower - Sue only got hot water after asking reception to turn it on. Later on I asked how to get to the China embassy. The guy that runs the place said it's about 5km away. I asked how much transport should cost. He said another guy working there can take me there for $5. I asked if it's available for cheaper, he said no. I then consulted my guide book, as of 2006 it was 50 cents. I asked him about that, he got mad and screamed "you walk then!". One of the guests, a Frenchman, joined in and said there's no way I'll pay less than $5. We left, and after a bit of negociation we paid $1 to someone outside. When we came back, we filled our water bottle at the water cooler, and the same guy says something like "What? You can't afford to buy water??". So we check out after 1 night instead of 2, and go to Siam Reap. Part of the reason this was so upsetting was that people running guest houses are generally extremely friendly (this is our first negative experience in 6 months of budget travel), and this place was recommended by our travel guide. Also this place cost $3.50/night, so the amount he wanted to overcharge on taxi was more than one night's stay.

Anyway, the bus from Laos broke down a couple times (blew a tire), allowing us get out and see the landscape a bit better. The bus was pretty good, a karaoke bus with 20 white people and 2 Lao people. A quarter of the time they were showing a Michael Jackson DVD, and the rest of the time one of the Laos guys was singing along to Lao music.

Posted by chrisvasil 07:21 Archived in Cambodia Tagged lodging Comments (0)

Don Det - 4000 Islands at the Southern tip of Laos

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Between Laos and Cambodia we stopped for a day at Don Det, in Laos' 4000 islands. The island is a few kilometers across, and near the ferry docks are hotels and bungalows while further from the tourists there is a small farming village. The half-hour boat across has nice scenery, not too different from Canada's 1000 islands (just 4 times more islands)

We took a long walk and crossed into the next island over, Don Khong, across the only railway bridge the French ever built in Laos, which has more trees and a waterfall.

A large and hungry group of piglets. So cute.

All in all our 4000 islands experience was pretty nice. The food options are pretty limited and there isn't too much to do, but we had a bungalow with concrete walls for $3.50 (they are available, on the waterfront, from $2.50 with thatch bamboo walls). The island doesn't have much beach and the water is a bit murky, but with a bit of walking it would certainly be possible to have a section of beach or even a small island to oneself.

From there we crossed into Cambodia. Since it was a weekend the Laos customs officers charged "overtime". I don't know if that means the government doesn't pay them, or just that they like to charge bribes. They were initially asking for $3 per person, but after 20 minutes of negotiations someone on the bus got them down to $1 per person. At the Cambodian side it was similar but seemed more legitimate: there are 3 steps to getting a visa, and each costs $1 per person.

Posted by chrisvasil 07:17 Archived in Laos Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Vientiane - Small capital city and 25th SEA Games

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We rode to Vientiane on a rickety afternoon bus, and pulled into town in the mid evening. Though we hadn't given it much thought, we knew from ads we saw earlier in Laos that the Southeast Asia Games were in Vientiane starting on the 8th. Not too surprisingly, it was hard to find a place to stay - after passing by about 15 places that were full, we settled into the first vacancy we found. It was more expensive than we're used to (about $15) and they were full for the next day, but at least we had a spot for the night.

The next day we went to Buddha park, which is a really cool, really small park full of Buddhas and Hindu god sculptures. The park is 15 km out of town and only the size of a city block, but has hundreds of impressive statues. It is one of very few recently built attractions (only about 50 years old) that is truly worth visiting. The largest sculpture is a 30 metre reclining Buddha, but there are a huge amount of amazing pieces, of which a fraction are pictured below.

After getting back we took in some of the main sights of the capital city (population 200,000, in a country of 6 million people). I liked their version of the Arc de Triomphe, the Patuxay. It is similar to the original, but with a bit of an Asian twist to the design. It also has the brilliant distinction of being built of concrete donated by the US in the 60s for the construction of an airport runway. Unfortunately local officials don't hold as high an opinion of the structure as I do: the sign below is posted at the base of the Arc ("Built in 1962 but never complete due to the country's turbulent history. From a closer distance, it appears even less impressive, like a monster of concrete.") Seriously, it's not that bad. Also, apart from a few steel rods poking out near the ceiling there is no evidence that the structure was never completed.

The black stupa, an old part of a temple that seems out of place surrounded by modern buildings close to city center.

The city has one of the world's fanciest Culture Hall buildings.

Part of dinner: one of 3 frogs we bought on a skewerfrom a roadside stand. One tasted fishy, but the other two were actually pretty good.

We were in the capital for a few days over the beginning of the SouthEast Asia Games, a sport competition in which 9 countries compete (Laos, Myanmar, Brunei, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, East Timor, Cambodia). On the first day we went to see Tae Kwan Do, with 5 medals contested. It took us an hour to find out where to take the bus, and another hour to get to the venue including the 2.5km walk from the bus stop. Luckily, we were still hours early. It turned out they were only doing katas (sequences of moves, everyone does the same thing) that day, but it still got pretty exciting. Medal winners come from 4 of the 9 countries, as there are 2 bronze medals for all sports where braketing is possible rather than having a bronze medal match to decide who takes 3rd and 4th place. They win a stuffed animal in addition to their medal. It's exciting.

Back home in the evening, after deciding that we'd sleep at the bus station if we don't find a place to sleep, we were able to find a single room in a guest house. The price was right and everywhere else was full, so we decided to stay a couple days. Sue was so happy to see the Full sign when we went down after checking in, and she laughed whenever we saw people lugging around their big backpacks going from place to place looking for a vacancy.

The next day we went to see thai boxing, but arrived 8 hours too early. So we went to karate a couple kilometers away. It was katas, similar to what we saw at tae kwon do the day earlier, and they adjourned for a few hours when we got there. So we ended up going back to tae kwon do. To our relief they were fighting that day, and we arrived just in time to see the gold medal finals. We still don't know how scoring works, but sometimes the coach would use a card and get 3 points, which seemed a lot like a video game move.
Laos Superfan #1 and Superfan #2 (with flags found at the side of the road the prior day)

Vietnam guy winning his fight. Immediately after he won gold, rather than running around the arena with his flag like he ran to the stands. We thought he was going to see his coach or president or something, but no, he was picking up a cheque for 5 million dong (roughly $320). The same happened each time Vietnam won gold (which was one other time, plus one time it nearly happenned and they got the novelty cheques out then put them back away).

We saw some table tennis, which in southeast asia is not at all competitive -- almost all matches are won 3-0, which is an impressive gap between each team for a league with 9 teams. The stadium was not at all inviting: here is a pic of Sue using what I think is the main entrance to the stadium grounds.

Dinner in our cheap guest house's fancy dining room. The table and chairs are each tree stumps, and we're eating 2 fish, some rice, and some vegetables.

Our last night there we downloaded a detailed schedule (with times) so that we wouldn't arrive at the wrong time like we had half the time in the last few days. So we got up in time to get to the Diving preliminaries at 10am. We got there just after 10 and the cheering squad was there, with a few divers practising on the boards. A bit odd but whatever. Then the cheering squad left, and we waited for it to start until 1pm. We saw some good dives (and some bad ones) for half an hour, before leaving early so we could see Thai boxing. So unimpressed with their scheduling and transport.

Finally we arrived at the Muai Thai arena, which we were really happy to see since we hadn't seen Thai boxing when in Thailand and these were world-class competitors. It did not disappoint - it's a vicious sport, and especially after seeing Tae Kwon Do I can see why most successful MMA competitors are trained in Thai Boxing. It's also a bit like pro wrestling, in that there are a couple minutes before each match where the competitors dance or work the crowd. There is an asian band playing music in the background as the fight goes on. These last two points hold true even in international competitions. Wonderful.

Posted by chrisvasil 07:15 Archived in Laos Tagged events Comments (0)

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