Asia Cambodia

Leaving Phnom Penh, Travel bloggers tips and tales

Leaving Phnom Penh For Sihanoukville

Having left it too late to buy a ticket for the Giant Ibis bus to Sihanoukville the hotel we stayed at recommended another bus company which they claimed is just as good, and, as it costs the same I take the bait, buy the tickets, how wrong can you be. We ended up with tickets on Vet bus run by Virak-Buntham Express Travel & Tour. Like most bus companies in Cambodia they collect you from your hotel about an hour before scheduled departure time. The pickup van, a dilapidated and rusting wreck, from the hotel told me this was going to be an interesting experience come what may. Whilst the actual minivan bus turned out not to be too bad what no one could prepare you for was the insane driver to match the general level of insane driving that is Cambodian road travel. And yes, I have lived to tell the tale, but I reckon the stress of the journey may well knock a couple of years off my life expectancy.  To give you some idea of the speed we went at we managed to pass the Giant Ibis bus plying the same route, but which had left Phnom Pen and hour before our departure time. In reality we had little choice as we had a hotel reservation in Sihanoukville and a well-planned itinerary. The next bus journey to Kampot turned out to be equally as hair raising, although mercifully half the distance. In a word never again!!

Sihanoukville

Otres Beach Sihanoukville

Having done quite a bit of research on the best places to stay I plumped for Otres village as this was meant to be the most chilled out and quieter of the options on offer, whilst still within easy reach of the beach and Otres 1 and 2. Although it turned out to be a bit of a journey from the Sihanoukville bus station  it looked promising as we headed down the dusty and unassuming village streets of Otres  village, turning off in the middle and heading a little further to our destination lodging for two nights, Heart Of Venice. A nice place with a pool and simple but perfectly adequate bungalows run by an extended Italian family. On the face of it this turns out to be a good choice being just far enough outside the small village, but still within easy reach of shops and 10 minutes bike ride from a pretty much deserted stretch of beach (they also provide free bikes for guests) The other added bonus is the home cooked Italian food and in particular seafood pasta, which is very good. Day one we spend a couple of hours on the beach and swimming in the gorgeous and clean sea waters. At a little after lunchtime we cycle to Otres 2 in search of food and it is not long before we realise this place seems predominantly peopled by a druggie party crowd. Night two that party crowd a little closer than we expected when I am awoken to the night air filled with the thump thump of a jungle party that can be heard for miles around. 8 am the next morning, a Wednesday, I was once again awoken, but this time to the sound of close by, and so loud the walls are shaken, to the thump thump of hard-core club music. Venturing out from the bungalow to investigate I discover that a nightclub, or should that be day club, is situated just down the road from Heart of Venice and was the party peoples destination following the jungle rave. At breakfast on the balcony a little later  I watch the steady flow of drug casualties staggering along the dusty red clay road in a dazed search of the venue, some so out of it they couldn’t find the place, despite the loud bass providing a clear audio map.  Later I realised this is the place that the Lonely Planet guide offers as a sign of things being on the up for this part of Cambodia. The locals might beg to differ, but can do little as the club owners pay hefty bribes to the police in order to be left alone and undisturbed. The owners of Heart of Venice, left with little choice, take a philosophical approach and comfort themselves with the fact that it only happens once a week. Me, whilst I feel for them,  I’m just happy we are to leave later that morning and I cannot help but wonder how long before somebody dies of an overdose.

My general impression of Sihanoukville, it could be an amazing destination, but unfortunately, it would seem to have become a destination place for drug abuse and as a consequence is being destroyed by corruption. Would I return? Not any time soon. In fact so uninspired was I that I have few pictures to share, or recommendations to make, other than a couple taken at the beach.

Sunset Otres Beach Sihanoukville

 

My Top Top Tip Here. Book any and all bus tickets that you can for long journeys, or indeed any serviced by Giant Ibis bus company as they are by far the most professionally run and therefore safest on the wild west that is road travel Cambodia.

Getting There

Giant Ibis online info and bookings click this link for info

Staying There

Heart Of Venice online info and bookings click this link for info

 

Next stop Kampot

#TravelWise #TravelWell #TravelThere with #DKTravelPix

 

Asia Cambodia

The Killing Fields (Choeung Ek) and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21)

The Killing Fields (Choeung Ek) and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21)

Both of these places are the main draws for travelers to Phnom Penh and visited on the same day by most as a combined package. It makes for a somber, sober and saddening day, planting memories of images and scenes that are likely to stay with you and last a lifetime. No bad thing, although we did witness some disrespectful idiots taking selfies in an around the Stupa that houses the skulls of the dead. Whilst another group of young adult Australians I witnessed were loud and behaved as if they were visiting a theme park. At the risk of sounding, or being, preachy visitors should show their respect for all who died in these dreadful places by observing an air of solemn calm and quiet reflection.

The Entrance to Choeung Ek Genocidal Center

The Killing Fields, once the site of an orchard, memorialises and symbolises the final expressions of barbarity of the Khmer Rouge,  the final resting place for the murdered, located about 17 Kilometres outside Phnom Penh most arrive here by Tuk Tuk.

The Memorial Stupa. This Stupa houses the skulls of many of the victims found buried around the site now known as the Killing Fields. Depressions in the ground are the sites of excavated mass graves.

It is estimated that from a population of some 8 million people about a quarter were either murdered or starved to death during the reign of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. For me, although witness of the remains of the mass graves is an awful reality, the most harrowing and difficult to comprehend aspect of the place is the Killing Tree that was used to kill babies and children in the most horrific fashion by bashing their skulls against it. I cried a lot this day and in the end despaired for us as a race when my thoughts turned to current day events taking place in Syria at the behest of another couple of murderous dictators, Assad and Putin. For the sad truth is, humanity it seems will never learn.

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Europe UK

North Wales Off The Beaten Track

Day Tripping North Wales, Walking in Sunshine, Almost!

With the first weekend of proper blue sky sunshine upon us and a bit of heat in the air to accompany, thoughts turn to getting out of the city, even if just for a day and heading into the countryside.

Living in Manchester we are lucky enough to have a host of easy to reach destinations whether traveling north, south, east or west. That said, it is never a difficult one you make in choosing Wales, one of my favorite places on the planet. It doesn’t matter how far or wide I travel this globe of ours I never tire of trips to Wales, where even a familiar landscape causes me to smile as the light shows it in a subtle different and ever changing fresh perspective.

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Asia Cambodia

A Travel Bloggers Impressions of Phnom Penh

A Travel Bloggers Impressions of Phnom Penh Cambodia in Words & Pictures

Monument to the late King Norodom Sihanouk with independence monument in background

I first visited Phnom Penh about 4 years ago and was struck this visit by the rate of change and the speed of development taking place in this city on the move.  This is fast turning in to and exciting vibrant and great city to visit in South East Asia. No longer just a stopping post for visiting the Killing Fields and S21 but is fast becoming a destination city in itself.

 

Memorial statue and monument to the Vietnamese army for their part in driving the Khmer Rouge out of Phnom Penh

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Asia Cambodia

Kompung Khleang, Angkor Province, Cambodia

A Travel Bloggers Guide to Off the Beaten Track in Angkor, Cambodia.

This blog post focuses on my return visit to the community of Kompung Khleang, Angkor province, Cambodia. This is a village largely centered on and living off the Tonle Sap Lake and river that feeds into it. It is not a pretty, or sanitised tourist place, but rather, offers a glimpse into the reality of life for most of Cambodia’s population i.e. poor. This was my second visit and I am once again struck by the warmth and open generosity of the people who live and work along its shores. It is also a place that few who marvel at the many sights or Angkor and Angkor Wat will see, as it lies off the beaten track and has not suffered a tourist makeover. But for those who have a genuine interest in how the majority of Cambodians live and survive in this part of the country it is a good starting point. From a personal perspective I cannot imagine visiting any country, and particularly one steeped in such a profoundly  creative and important history, and not be interested in the inhabitants, who are after all the ancestors of it creator’s. Behind the laughter smiles and warm welcome lies the cruel truth of a life expectancy of 40 to 45 years due to Dengue fever and Malarial mosquitos. Still the children will rush forth at the mere sight of a stranger using it as an opportunity to share their few words of English “Hello mister, where you from?” They are quick to smile and delighted when asked to gather for a picture. It is also a place full of strong colour form the vibrant blues of the clear sky mirrored in the shades of blue in the house and building and set dramatically by the rusty burnt orange colours of the mud roads. The road eventually terminates in the village square beside a monastery school and boat jetty where we take our river and lake trip out to the vast expanse that is Tonle Sap Lake and the floating villagers who call it home. I cannot imaging visiting Siem Reap or Angkor again in the future and not paying yet another visit to this fascinating place.

 

Stilt House on Tonle Sap River

All houses are built high on stilts as the water level raise dramatically in the rainy season.

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Asia Cambodia

A Travelbloggers Guide to Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Travelbloggers guide  and top tips for Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Angkor

This was to be my second visit to Siem Reap and the temples and ruins of Angkor. Spread out over an area of some 600 acres amidst the tropical humidity of Cambodia it is at once beguiling and mysterious in its state of semi ruin, a state accentuated by the creeping gripping roots of giant fig trees that have embedded themselves into the stonework and structure of so many of these part ruins. Indeed it is this very otherworldly quality that led Hollywood to use it as the location for large parts of the film Tomb Raider.

To sum up my experience of the return to Angkor In a word magical!!

 

Angkor Wat itself is surrounded by a 650-foot wide moat encompassing a perimeter of more than 3 miles, it is approximately 13 feet deep. This water way adds further to the enchantment of the area as a whole. The trees and roots that add so much drama and structural damage to the remaining temples are those of the Ficus strangulosa tree, a member of the fig family of trees. Although they caused a lot damage to the structure of a  lot of the temples, in some they have become so embedded as to become part of the supporting structure. In  many it is hard to see how they could be removed at this point, without causing further major damage to the remaining element. They also add to the drama and mystery of the area, having become synonymous with the temples and aesthetic of this region throughout the world.

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Asia Thailand

A Travel Bloggers Guide to Chiang Mai Thailand, Top Travel Tips

Chiang Mai, Thailand

A travel bloggers insight guide and recommendations.

There are 6 main reasons that tourists to travel north of Bangkok to the much more relaxed and chilled out city of  Chiang Mai. One: To see the exquisite Buddhist temples, Two:  Because it is a much more relaxed and safer place than Bangkok, Three: As the gateway to jungle trekking into the surrounding mountains, Four: Probably most popular of all, to visit and experience a close up encounter with elephants. Five: For Thai massage and Six: Last but not least, the food!!

I had first visited Chiang Mai in 2014 as the meeting point with a tour guide for a 3 day trek up into the rain-forests of Northern Thailand, a trip that had turned out to be one of the best experiences of my travel adventures. For the few days spent in Chiang Mai on either side of the trekking adventure I had grown to like the laid back and friendly atmosphere of Chiang Mai itself. Based on this the aim of my return was simply to relax and enjoy that laid back atmosphere. Having gone trekking in the past I also wanted to have a close up encounter with elephants, but at a place that have a No ride policy. It is an unfortunate truth that many tourists visiting this part of Thailand do so with the aim of taking part in an Elephant encounter which has led to the rise of many unscrupulous and unethical Elephant farms. I use the term Elephant farm deliberately as they are little more than exploitative and cruel places run by people with little care for elephants, other than how to exploit them.

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Austria Europe

Vienna revisited, a travel bloggers view.

The Long Weekender

Vienna (Wien) Austria

 

Vienna is a city that has held a special place ever since I first visited as an 18 year old. I returned after that first visit a few times between the ages  of 18 and 25, but had not returned since. From that very first visit it struck me as a fairy-tale city, full of romance and joy, enhanced given that it was  December, close to Christmas, the ground covered in a blanket of pure white snow, all adding to that feeling of magic. On one of my visits on a Christmas day I made my way to St. Stephens’s cathedral, more out of curiosity than religious compulsion, and ended up with the very good fortune of hearing the Viennese boys’ choir sing. It still stands out as a profound life memory, along with those memories of the friends I made and times we shared. On one such evening a gang of us all met up (me being the only non-Austrian) in the metro station at Opera before heading off into the snow covered streets, snow ball fighting as we went into the night. The memory of that night and many other remain vivid to my recollection. Indeed, such was the impact of my experiences in Vienna it inspired a short story I wrote shortly after one visit, which was published in a well-known Dublin magazine of the time “In Dublin”

Would I feel differently all these years later I wondered?

View from the plane as we come in to land Vienna.

This time there was no snow to greet me, but then on many of my past visits in younger days the snow had long passed. I am happy to say the city has lost none of its charm and is as wondrous and romantic a place now as it was then.

From a practical point of view  it’s also turned out to be one of the least expensive European cites I have visited, even taking Brexit bashing on my pound into account. This is another city where a city pass is an absolute must, called the Vienna Pass, it offers not only free entry into 60+ attractions in many it also allows you to skip the ques and gain easy access to the attraction, a real boon in peak season As if that wasn’t enough it includes the Hop on Hop off City Tour Bus, again a great was to familiarise yourself with the city and it stunning architectural history. If fact it covers entry to so many places you will be hard pressed to visit them all.

Schonbrunn Palace and Gardens Vienna

Schonbrunn Palace and gardens, a place I remembered well from all those years ago.

Tree lined avenue Schonbrunn

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Denmark Europe

Getting down with the Hygge in Copenhagen……..

Copenhagen Dreaming

 

The long weekender Copenhagen Denmark

 

Top Tips and Travel Know How

Frederiks Kirke (The Marble Church)

Sometimes fast sees more than more time spent can find. It is the fleeting glimpse and quick insight, when the light shines in a particular way, illuminating a view, I sometimes think it better to absorb quick and move on. The light here, on this day, told me all I wanted to know and feel.  In this light, with its crisp short span, from dawn till dusk, it is easy to understand the aesthetic and pared back simplicity that is the very definition of our understanding of what we refer to as Danish style. The light at this time of the year is made for photographers, never too high in the sky, rising late and setting early, but I cannot imagine I could stand too many of these short days and long nights of winter. Yet I can only wonder why it has taken me so long to visit this wonderful city and finish by saying I will be back when the sun and day hold for longer.

 

Stroma Canal Tour

Top Tip here, don’t go for the Netto boat as its pretty naf. A better option with much nicer boats and reputed to be the original tour, Stroma Canal Tour Copenhagen. Offering the Grand Tour and lasting one hour (Included with the Copenhagen Pass) you can join the boat tour at either Nyhavn, or Gammel Strand. A guided tour around the harbor and through the idyllic canals with guide commentary will tell you about Copenhagen’s beautiful churches, castles, old listed houses, new buildings and all other sights of interest. (The English speaking guide gave a very good commentary along the way)

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New Zealand

A Month in New Zealand continued, Te Anau, Fiordland,

4 days 3 nights in Te Anau, Fiordland, New Zealand  Pictures and top travel tips

We arrive in Te Anau as the sun begins to fall in the sky and casts a shimmering glitter over Lake Te Anau. Checking into our motel we are less than impressed (Parkland Motel), but having left it late to book this is virtually all that is left as it is high season with virtually everywhere fully booked. On that count I guess we are lucky to have found accommodation, but this place, although clean and well located, is seriously dated and overpriced and on reflection would count as the worst value of the entire trip.

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Top Tip For accommodation, Te Anau for Fiordland, book as far in advance as you can.

Ok, so putting that aside, Te Anau itself is a nice small town with a good range of amenities, including some good cafes, bars, restaurants and a good supermarket. For my recommendations see links to bottom of this post.

After checking in we head into the small town in search of information and tickets for Doubtful and Milford Sounds. Arriving at the i-Site (You will find these centers in most tourist destinations in New Zealand, a great place to get both information and book tickets for trips and attractions.

With the aid of the very friendly and helpful advisor Laura Needs we settle on a dual package deal covering Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound and receive a discount for the double booking. If you are using this i-Site to book and purchase tickets see if Laura Needs is around as she is a fantastic advisor, with great patience and care in the way she deals with all visitors. Following Laura’s advice, we booked the Real Journeys tour for Doubtful Sound and Southern Discoveries for the Milford Sound trip and I can highly recommend both, although the Doubtful sound trip was definitely the better of the two, but hardly surprising as it cost a lot more money. The main difference between the packages and tours, Doubtful Sound is virtually an all-day experience on the water, whilst Milford Sound is about one and three quarter hours on the water. If I had to book again personally I would probably just book Doubtful Sound and give Milford boat trip a miss, but still do a road trip from Te Anau to the Milford Sound terminal as it involves some of the most breath-taking scenery in New Zealand.

 

Trip 1 Doubtful Sound

We are up at the crack of dawn and on the road by 7am. The itinerary starts at the pickup point at Lake Manapouri. Even though the boat does not leave until 830am and the distance from Te Anau to   Manapouri is a mere 22 kilometres we are keen not to take any chances, given that we are unfamiliar with the route, or road. We needn’t have worried as the road is easy and straight, although heavy with early morning misty fog. There is also a good café on site serving decent coffee and sandwiches. We also managed to snatch an hour of the Paul Henry show as we readied ourselves for the day.

The Doubtful Sound tour consists of two parts, with the first boat taking us out onto Lake Manapouri as the sun began to rise and clouds gently broke and cleared. This is followed by a trip across New Zealand’s most expensive road leading up and over Wilmot Pass, it also stopped along the way providing the perfect opportunity to view and gasp at the first sight of Doubtful Sound glistening far below. It has to be said that all staff on this trip were first rate, extremely helpful, knowledgeable and in parts funny, in particular our bus driver who took us on the Wilmot Pass stretch of the journey and kept everyone amused and laughing with his repartee. Equally, the compere/local expert, on the Doubtful Sound cruise gave a knowledgeable and enthusiastic commentary throughout the trip.

I would have to say the highlight of this trip for me, and one of the most memorable of my many travels, was when the captain announced a request for 5 minutes of silence, when the boats engines were cut and all passengers and crew just sat, or stood, still and quiet. Rarely have I ever experienced such, sheer calm, uninterrupted and beautiful silence.

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Lake Manapouri Fiordland New Zealand

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