So, as most people reading this will already know, Chris and I are back in the UK and our trip is over. We now have our minds on other things and it seems an age since we were travelling the hot dusty roads of SE Asia but…… leaving the blog incomplete would trouble me so I am here to put up some photos of the last 2 (to date undocumented) weeks in Cambodia.
I’ll start with a view from a spot close to the Thai border, looking down on the lowland plains of Cambodia below. It is very flat down there and flat roads make for very dull cycling, but this was our first day in Cambodia so I had yet to discover this.
It was in this area (within spitting distance of Thailand) that the last of the Khmer Rouge hid out until the late Nineties. Pol Pot was cremated here with no fanfare, either at the time or since, judging by the rusty corrugated iron shelter and simple blue sign. Locals are still bringing offerings for him- probably due in no small part though to the rumour that he gives out winning lottery numbers in return.
We headed down from the border mountains to the dusty town of Anlong Veng and from there onwards towards Siem Reap. The road was long, flat and tedious with nothing in the way of spectacular vistas en route but there were a few sights on the road itself with some novelty value for the Western eye.
Cambodian pigs don’t care much for travel. I wonder why?
We thought we were overloaded with our heavy pannier bags but check out these poor guys! Time for strike action wouldn’t you say (especially with that second driver reclining smugly back on his pillow rubbing their noses in it)?
One of the downsides of being a cyclist in Cambodia is the Dust. Clouds of the stuff are whipped up by every passing vehicle leaving the cyclist repeatedly enveloped and wobbling along with eyes, nose and mouth all clamped tightly shut (somewhat of a safety issue I’m sure you will agree). Here’s me shortly after we got to Siem Reap and before I spent half an hour in the shower scraping layer after layer of grime off. (Honestly, it was just embarrassing having to check into the Hilton looking like that.)
With our arrival in Siem Reap came a run of bad luck. On our first day we were on a mission to gorge ourselves on Western food so gleefully ordered huge American-style sandwiches followed by ice-cream (me) and 2 huge pieces of ‘Death by Chocolate’ cake (Chris). What followed was either a result of poor hygiene standards or divine retribution for committing one of the seven deadly sins. While I merely felt extremely unwell and nauseous, Chris had the pleasure of firing ‘Death by Chocolate’ out of both his ends simultaneously. I’m sure all readers will be relieved to know that there are no pictures of this.
Semi-recovered from our digestive ordeals, we set out on what we hoped would be a several day round trip out into Preah Vihear province. However, after 70km travelled, at 6.30 in the evening, when we were quite a way out into the middle of nowhere, Chris happened to discover that there were several loose spokes on his back wheel and that the whole thing was wobbling and threatening imminent buckling and collapse. With no hope of mechanical help in sight we were forced to retreat the 70km back to Siem Reap where we arrived at about midnight in none too positive a mood.
After this setback we decided that we needed some breathing space to get the wheel fixed and re-evaluate things so we booked our Siem Reap hotel room for the rest of the week and bought a 3 day pass to the temples of Angkor. Now, everyone that we had met on our travels thus far had heaped praise and superlatives on Angkor to the point where even my temple-phobe self was wondering if I might actually derive a little enjoyment for my $40. Sadly this was not to be.
When we saw Angkor Wat itself for the first time it looked the same as on the postcards, a stone temple, crumbling in places, with tediously never-ending walls of carvings. That was it. I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but I did hope that I might feel something being there. As a comparison, if I were ever to go to Nepal and stand looking up at Everest or Annapurna or any of the great Himalayan peaks, I am certain that I would feel awestruck by their majesty and beauty. I would actually feel something (other than bored and disinterested and ready for my lunch).
After our morning at Angkor Wat, we still had 2 and a half days of temples left to endure!
This is the Bayon where we saw more crumbling stone and more carvings.
The carvings at Banteay Srei are particularly intricate.
People get excited about Ta Prohm because it has trees growing through it.
But of course it also has a plentiful supply of carvings.
The guidebook hypes the experience of exploring Beng Mealea as being ‘the ultimate Indiana Jones experience’. Ummm, OK then, so since when did Mr Jones trudge round a temple on sedate wooden walkways sandwiched in between 2 Japanese tour groups?
We had hired a tuk-tuk driver for our 3 days of temple fun and we were not about to insult him by letting on that we were somewhat underwhelmed by his country’s top tourist attraction. So we became adept at giving each new temple a cursory glance, determining an appropriate length of time to be spent ‘admiring’ it and then emerging after the aforementioned length of time, prattling away about carvings and smiling ever so enthusiastically. What did we actually do to entertain ourselves in the meantime you may ask?
How about a spot of ‘Where’s Wally’?
Passing the time shootin the breeze with the locals……
Anyone for a nap?
People watching. Wondering why all these hordes of tourists had chosen to come to Angkor and what they were actually getting out of it. It seems to me that there are an awful lot of people go abroad only to get herded round ‘the sights’, frenetically snapping away with their big expensive cameras and mentally ticking off a list of places they can now ‘say that they’ve seen’. Check this picture out. Is it the paparazzi when Paris Hilton’s in town? No, it’s a load of tourists during a very mediocre sunset at Angkor.
And now back to the art of time wasting…… Playing ‘Imposter in the Tour Group’ became a favourite pastime. Now, if only I had one of those hats.
Are you paying attention there Chris?
Observing tourist fashion at its finest was also a highlight. In our ‘Best Dressed at Angkor’ category, we almost gave the gong to a classic example of butch-German-lesbian-couture but in the end settled for this lady rockin the floral look.
And finally: Take lashings of steep steps, a dollop of juvenile humour, just add a digital camera and hours of fun can be had!
Perhaps not the best photo to end the blog on, but end on it I shall. All that remains now is to answer the question (for anyone who’s curious) of why we chose at this point to cut our trip short and return home to the UK a few days later. Nothing dramatic happened at all, we just had a long chat and realised that we both felt that lately we hadn’t been enjoying the trip enough to justify the money that we were going to be spending continuing with it. The 3 months in Indonesia had been perfect but since then we had failed to really discover anything fresh or exciting in Thailand or Cambodia. Everywhere and everything seemed to be ‘more of the same’ or just plain disappointing after Indonesia. We were bored and jaded. We needed to be doing rather than just looking. The cycling was supposed to be the antidote to these feelings but it hadn’t turned out that way. Where we thought there would be adventure there was tedium, instead of freedom we had hassles, and then there was that Dust. Sitting here back in the UK writing this, I’m confident we made the right decision.
So, that’s it for the blog on our Southeast Asian travels 2008. Thanks to all our readers out there. Some people surprised me by reading when I never thought they’d be interested, some people surprised me by not reading (too preoccupied with themselves maybe?) and some people even took the time to comment (thanks Janet and Mike!). As for me, I have enjoyed writing so shall keep this space open for tales of our future travels. I am also contemplating becoming a regular blogger at home as well as on the road so check back here in the not too distant future for a link to the new blog……