City Panoramic, December 2015. Arriving in the smoky buzz of Phnom Penh felt like the perfect Asian daydream. Winding our way towards the hotel in our tuk-tuk, there were flashes of fluorescent market stalls, locals munching on sizzling meat sticks and the spectral forms of wobbly high-rises reflecting in the River Mekong. The next morning we awoke to a glorious day of blue-sky perfection, the sun shining so impossibly bright we could barely see.
Battambang Bamboo Train, December 2015. During my wanderings around Cambodia I met plenty of fellow travellers who didn’t even bother stopping in Battambang! I can’t help but feel they really missed out, from the kooky city itself with its excellent café and restaurant scene to the amazing beauty and history of Phnom Sampeau and the immense fun of a trip on The Bamboo Train! The latter is one of the world’s most unique rail journeys, but you’ll only need to part with five Dollars of your hard earned cash for the bumpy twenty-minute ride from O Dambong out to the tiny settlement of Sra Lav.
Phnom Sampeau, December 2015. The curious little Cambodian city of Battambang offers visitors a handful of unique sights that stand right up there with the country’s must-see attractions. One of these is Phnom Sampeau, a massive limestone outcrop 12 kilometres outside the town centre. It’s a steep forty-minute walk up to its highest paths, or you can pay an entrepreneurial moto-man four dollars to whisk you up. About halfway up the hill a side road leads you under a gate into the site of Battambang’s grisly Killing Caves. It was here that the Khmer Rouge bludgeoned hundreds of people to death and tossed their bodies through the skylights of the caves. A series of gruesome sculptures depict the atrocities, while down in the main cave there’s a glass case memorial of skulls and bones. Not for the fainthearted.
Angkor Wat, November 2015. I’d been living in the Cambodian city of Siem Reap for a few months when I finally took a tuk-tuk out to the world famous ruins of Angkor. I’d been saving it for the visit of my mate Chris who’d flown over from London. So off we went along with a girl I’d been seeing and her pretty but uncommunicative sister. Waking up at the painful hour of 05:00, it was a magical anticipatory ride over in the darkness, and boy oh boy were we rewarded as we rocked up at Angkor Wat in time for daybreak. Described as “the heart and soul of Cambodia”, that sunrise stands as a real highlight from all my years of travelling.
Tuk-tukking, December 2015. One of the many cool things about travelling is the people you meet along the way. While some of these bonds last for just a day or two, or remain forever connected to just one special moment; it’s great when you form a friendship that goes on to outlast the trip itself. And so it proved with Daryl, who I bumped into on a bus from Siem Reap to Battambang. Crunching our way down a wild stretch of road, we got chatting and I learned that it was Daryl’s first bout of Asian exploring. I on the other hand had just called time on an experimental two months of living and teaching in Siem Reap. We were both excited to see what Cambodia had to offer and by the time we rolled up in Battambang had already drawn up plans to visit the limestone outcrop of Phnom Sampeau and ride the famous Bamboo Train. Checking into our respective hostels, we grabbed some lunch, hailed a tuk-tuk and set off!
Water Festival, November 2015. Siem Reap is a very comfortable city for visitors, whether you find yourself passing through to see Angkor Wat, or even thinking about starting a new life in South East Asia. The weather is great, there’s a vibrant expat community, nearly everyone speaks English and the place is awash with cafes, bars and restaurants offering a wide variety of international cuisine. Better still, life there is as cheap as chips, from accommodation and fine dining to scuttling around town by tuk-tuk. One of the best times to visit is in November for the annual Water Festival (Bon Om Touk). There are festive markets to explore, an abundance of street food and of course the main spectacle itself: a series of colorful, hotly contested boat races.