A long and stressful journey.

Up at 6:30am the breakfast was served on the rooftop which was lovely, and a French guy asked if Leia and I were Spanish which gave us a good tan confidence boost!

We had to be at the tourist office at 7:30, we got there in time and were put in a minivan to take a 5 minute journey to then be put on a larger coach. It’s about a 3 hour journey to the border so we napped most of the way. Upon being dropped off in poipet we went straight through departure immigration before a guy found us and offered us a minibus for 500baht each to Koh Samet. Telling us it would take 4 hours and left at 12, this was perfect as we needed to get to the last ferry at 5pm.
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We made it through Thai immigration no problem and he was there waiting for us. We were very wary as I had read that there’s a lot of dodgy cons going on at this border crossing. The guy led us to an office where they called the minivan and chatted away to us. Then the boss asked me for the money upfront while the others were in the toilet, when I checked how long it would take he said 6 hours!

No way would we get the ferry with that and if we missed it it could cost up to £40-50 for a speedboat over to the island. We told him we would get a taxi as we knew we could get one for 2500baht, however he said he would ring one for us but that it would cost 3000baht. I politely declined and we left to go to the atm, at this point he followed us and started betting annoyed saying we should pay and get in the minivan like we had agreed. It was a little confrontational for my liking but we just said no thank you, we need to get to the pier in time. At this he started saying it was very bad and no good, but we walked away and got a taxi easy. Although a random man in an orange hat tried to get us to tip him for helping when he hadn’t done anything! I found it hilarious and a bold move.

The taxi was great, air conditioned, playing a lot of beegees and fast! It took us around four hours with a couple of stops for coffee, toilet and for the others, ice cream!

Once we got to Ban Phe, where our ferry would depart our driver got lost! Having to ask a tour guy on a bike the way. The motorbike guy took us to a load of tour operators where they tried charging us three times the ferry price. We managed to get them down to a better amount with a bit of stressing, and the three of us were soon in a dodgy tuk tuk to the pier that could hardly steer, the whole thing shaking for the duration! The girl dropped us off at what we realised was the actual ferry point where tickets were the normal price. It was too late to argue!

The ferry was a medium sized fishing type boat which for the next hour crammed as many people and objects into it and on the roof as possible. We finally departed and within 5 minutes something was wrong, people were standing to see what was happening and a speed boat was waved over. Leia was not having a good time, worried the boat was going to sink as it slowed to halt.
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As the suspense and terror mounted, we realised one of the crew wasn’t feeling well and just needed to go back to port. The boat continued on and we arrived in Koh Samet! We were using airbnb for the first time, staying at a house rented by Olly, who turned out to be from Newcastle and owned a hostel and bar on the main street up from the port.
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We met him at the bar and he took us round to our new home, it was great, loads of space and comfy. We went for food by the pier, I enjoyed it loads, noodles with basil and chilli…yum!

We headed back to Olly’a bar, got a beer and Leia taught us some card games. Olly turned up and gave us some recommendations for the island. After a long day it was back to the house and bed time.

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A new hotel, and being groped by the concierge.

The next morning we had to change hotels as they had no room, but we had booked one further down the river with a pool and JacuZzi again.

The walk there was hot but uneventful, when we got there the host was waiting and very interested in me and Liam. After checking in we were shown up to the room which wasn’t ready but we could leave our bags in. The next thing I know the host pretends to trip and falls into my, his hands pressing up against my body! It was a hilarious move, I couldn’t believe it.

We then spent most of the day relaxing by the pool, being flirted with and generally enjoying the sun and pool. It was nice to relax but I’ve found I definitely enjoy being out and about exploring more than chilling out. The host tried to get as much skin contact as possible while we were there, whether it was buying drinks or trying to get in the fridge he was always there!

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As usual hunger sent us out into the streets, this time we went somewhere nearby the previous nights place. This one wasn’t as great, more flies and I got a papaya salad which was warm and brown.  Luckily I wasn’t very hungry so left it, we then stocked up on a few bits, I picked up my laundry and Leia and I went for a walk through the night markets.
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Once done we booked bus tickets to the border town of poipet for $3.75, had a drink and ice cream in blue pumpkin and were back in the hotel for 8pm. It was another early get up in the morning, ready for a gruelling 12 hour trip to Koh Samet, our chill out island for the next ten days. Chosen due to the weather being absolutely shocking at the other major islands.

Sunrise at Angkor, Indiana Tom, and the Leia of Doom.

Being up at 4:30am was surprisingly easy and we even got a packed breakfast to take with us from the hotel. As we walked out there was Samnang ready as usual, he got us through the busy sunrise traffic and dropped us off with the distant sky just starting to show the first signs of life.
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We walked through and veered off the main walkway to the left, sat down and got ready. The sky was clear and as the sun rose behind Angkor Wat I was mesmerised. It really is awesome, and I got a lot of nice pictures. As the sun continued to rise I went further down to watch from one of the ponds and I was glad I did. The sight from here was amazing, mist rose from the pond as the warm sun rays struck it and the sun gleamed through palm trees just to the side of the temple. It was so enjoyable and I sat with my legs dangling over the pond enjoying the beauty I was surrounded by.

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I think it would be one of the most romantic moments in your life if you
caught the sun coming up like that. I am a big softy though!

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I walked back down to meet the others and Samnang took us to the next temple, Preah Khan. I loved this temple, again we had to walk through and turn left to meet Samnang at the other side, the temple itself was like standing in a hallway full of mirrors each way looked like it went on forever. It was very quiet this early in the morning which made it much better.

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The best part was a huge bleached tree that had enveloped a wall it was great to think how old these temples are to have something of that magnitude growing up and around it. It made for some excellent tree pics and was even better from the other side.
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We ended up walking too far and it was a creepy crawly way with lots of the huge spiders in their webs hanging above us in the tree tops. It was worse when you couldn’t see a spider, I got my revenge on Leia by dropping a leaf on her shoulder and scaring her.

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We got to the end and realised it was the wrong way, but in some ways it worked out well because there was a huge expanse of water in front of us, with the morning sun shining off it.

The bad part meant we had to walk back under the spiders and cobwebs, Leia got me again my using a stick to tap my shoulder, I could’ve cried!

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We eventually made it back to Samnang who took us to Preah Neak Poan, a small temple surrounded by a pool with four outer pools circling it. This was nice but nothing extra special, we did get to walk along a gangway over the lake which was fun.
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Our next stop was a temple I didn’t catch the name of, it was small but when you walked through a doorway and turned around the whole thing had been overtaken by a tree growing round it,so the doorway goes through the roots. It looks like something out of fantasy and I absolutely loved it. Another temple was next and we were starting to get temple fatigue! This one was good with some elephant statues around it.

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The next place was about 45 minutes away, it’s called Banteay Srei and it didn’t have the imposing size of the other temples, the carvings were possibly more ornate but after spending the morning mostly alone at the different temples this one was really busy. We breezed through it and even surprised Samnang by the speed with which we were back. I don’t think it’s worth the hour and a half round trip or the extra money it cost us at the end.

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The best bit was seeing the Cambodian countryside and how people live out there.
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Tired and ready to get back we enjoyed the breeze of the tuk tuk and the views of lakes, forests and temples on the way back. At the hotel I got straight into bed and slept for a few hours. The others enjoyed the Jacuzzi while I dozed a little longer and sorted boring stuff like laundry. Then we got ready and went out for food, we ended up in the same place as we had gone the day before. It was cheap and cheerful and the food tasty. Now we were ready to enjoy Saturday night in Siem Reap.
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The first rule of our nights out is cheap beer. So we ended up in a 50c bar which also had table tennis and connect4. Leia and I had a game of tennis but were soon overheating in the Cambodian evening warmth so we switched to a connect4 tournament. All three of us taking it in turns to play each other, connect4 is a personal fave of mine ever since I was in Gran Canaria and it was in every bar.

After this we went back to X bar, the rooftop backpacker bar we had been to previously. This time they had a really good band on, playing classics like ‘Fast Car’, ‘Wicked Game’, Chilli Peppers and ‘All along the watch tower’. Amongst this Leia and I played more table football and Liam pestered the band at intervals.

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We spent a couple of hours there, it’s easy to just sit and have people bring you beers and not want to move. Eventually though we peeled ourselves from the seats and walked back towards the hotel, Liam was ready to go back but Leia and I stayed out, ending up on ‘pub street’ in a club filled with locals dancing to hip hop, dodgy dance and the YMCA. It was a lot of fun and we had a good time dancing like idiots, they even played the Macarena. It turned out that the locals even danced gangster style to this!

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Exhausted and ready for home we sauntered through town, on the look out for food but not finding anything decent, so bed beckoned and the next day was totally free of plans!

A lone ranger round town and another disappointing sunset

As with most days I woke early and went to fill up on the buffet breakfast, before getting back into bed and sleeping for a bit. I woke up and decided to get ready and go out rather than spend the next few hours waiting for the sunset in the hotel.

The others were still in bed as I left and walked across to the town, I walked through small alleyways packed with restaurants and souvenir shops, over the river to a labrynthian market selling the usual touristy stuff. I think I ended up walking along the same streets two or three times before I headed into the old market where about a million different scents and sounds hit me.

After making my way through the market I was starting to get v hot so I stopped at a place called Blue Pumpkin, there are a few around the town and they do ice cream,cakes and juices, so I had a lemon juice shake. It was lovely and refreshing as I sat cross legged up on a big deep sofa with loads of cushions, shoes left on the floor.

Once I had cooled down I hit the streets again, taking in the different sights, I ended up back by Viva the Mexican restaurant from the first day. So with the 50c beer too tempting and the free WiFi I sat and edited more blog. It wasn’t the best place to watch the world go by so I went down by the river and back to Sister Srey. At this point Leia and Liam were up and had been enjoying the Jacuzzi at the hotel, something that due to my tattoo I couldn’t utilise.

They were ready for food and in my wanderings I had seen some cheap Cambodian places along the old market, so while they got ready I went to a bar a little closer and waited for them to join. Once together again we went and had food, it was super cheap and pretty good. I had spicy fried rice with beef, Leia had pineapple rice and spring rolls, Liam went for a Cambodian stew type dish served in a coconut. The only bad bit were the soggy and warm spring rolls.

Now we were ready to do the sunset, Sambang was waiting for us and luckily reminded me about our tickets! The sky had a few clouds but we hoped they’d go by the time the sun went down.

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We arrived at a small temple where there were about 20 other people up at the top. It was an alright spot but the sun would just go behind the jungle, I think watching it go down behind a temple or on the lake would be much better. As we sat waiting and watching we soon realised it was going to be the same as in Laos, the clouds were all on the horizon and the sun just disappeared behind these and didn’t put on a show for us.

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It was a shame but not every sunset will be gorgeous and we’ve seen a couple of good ones.

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With that it was back to the hotel,going through the forests in the dark with just the outer limit of trees illuminated was scary but fun. Imagining the evil monkeys were just beyond the light, ready to pounce at any moment.

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As we got back to town I could see the sky lighting up in the distance, we got ready and went for a drink on the hotel rooftop. Sat there we could see the lightning shooting out across the clouds, it was spectacular and maybe made up for the poor sunset. We were up early in the morning, leaving at 5am for the Angkor Wat sunrise and more temples so we had one beer out in a nearby bar and were tucked up in bed by 10.

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Angkor Wat and temples temples temples.

We got up in our own time, getting breakfast and waiting outside was a tuk tuk or remork in Cambodia. The guy Mr Samnang offered to take us around for 15 dollars total to see several of the temples. We had done a bit of asking about and this seemed reasonable.

So we jumped in and off we went to our first stop, Angkor Wat, the most famous of the khmer temples. We got our $40 three day tickets, you have your picture printed onto them too. Setting off from the ticket station we entered the forest that surrounds the temple area and emerged with a great moat in front of us.

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It was stunning scenery and we hadn’t even seen the temple yet! As we rounded a bend you could see the masses gathering at the drop off point, although it was busy it wasn’t as packed out as I thought it would be, so we crossed the bridge into the outer building. As soon as we were clambering up steps and through passageways I felt like Indiana Jones, one wrong step and a giant boulder would be chasing us down the halls.

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It was a lot of fun, and by turning off the beaten path you can make your way round the grounds towards Wat without meeting too many others. I think because a lot of people see the sunrise then explore and move on we missed the busiest time of day.

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The views were excellent as we crossed the grass filled with spiders webs glistening in the sunlight. Angkor Way itself is very well kept and impressive in it’s enormity. We didn’t climb to the top as the queue was massive and everyone in it looked like they were about to collapse in the growing heat! As we got to the other side we headed down some steps where a little monkey was gnawing away at some bread. As I passed he suddenky bared his teeth and when Leia passed he looked like he was about to lunge at her, luckily a tour guide was nearby and chased him off.

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I’m starting to wonder about these monkeys. I’ve never been a big fan since reading about chimps biting people’s faces off.

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After thus stressful moment we strolled on down to the far end of the grounds past huge trees with plants crawling round their trunks. We made it to the moat and another gate on this side and enjoyed the view.

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We carried on to meet Samnang at the drop point waking past a load of sellers and food places pleading for your money. I gave in and bought some post cards from a young girl, even though I’ve seen signs saying not to. It’s hard as they follow you begging ‘Mr Mr one dollarrrr pleasseee Mr’ anyway, we made it back to the tuk tuk and next stop, Angkor Thom! This is meant to be one of the best ones to visit and it didn’t disappoint.

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Samnang had some ice cold water for us before he dropped us off and told us to walk at our leisure through the grounds of Thom. I found this to be my cup of tea more than Wat as it’s more ruinous and trees are growing up and around the walls and buildings. We were refused entry to one temple due to Leia wearing a vest as it’s bad to bare your shoulders. This didn’t matter as we came upon gates, temples and ruins through an amazing forest. At one point Leia had gone through a dingy looking building, as I followed she threw a seed from a tree into space in front of me and I jumped about a foot in the air, dropped my sun glasses and scrambled out of there. Leia was in hysterics! I was a mess.

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There’s so much to see and do at Angkor Thom I think you could spend hours in the forest finding all the different ruins. We started off at the Bayon temple before being dropped off further into the grounds. Tue Bayon was a state temple of a king and there are 216 faces bearing down on you from the various towers and buildings. That was really fun to climb over and under and every turn was greeted with beautiful stone carvings on the walls.

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As we emerged from the temples Samnang was there waving for us to meet him further down the walls we were on.

Setting off from Thom we drove past 4 amazing buildings surrounded by trees and through great gates towering over our little tuk tuk. Our next stop was Ta Prohm, the ‘tomb raider’ temple which has great trees and roots growing over it, showing the power of nature to reclaim lost ground. It was great but after 4 hours or so of temples it’s hard to be as enthused about each one. We did see the biggest spider I’ve ever seen outside of the zoo or a good Attenborough doc. It was suspended in the middle of a huge web, long spindly legs reaching out, it was probably just over the size of my palm.

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Getting goose bumps we continued on the path, Ta Prohm has two gates and you enter one before meeting your driver on the other side. It was fun but compared to what we would see on day 3 it didn’t compare.
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All templed out, my t shirt and shorts a completely darker shade than they were when I left, we headed back to the hotel. I loved the temples. The 216 faces were great and Angkor Thom feels like such an adventure as you’re left to your own devices, although we were always wary of mines when choosing the right path! I’m sure they have put extra effort into ensuring there are none but you never know!

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Back at the hotel we scrubbed the dirt away and got ready for tea. Not really having an idea of where to go we ended up in a small restaurant just across the river. The food was really good! Liam had a seafood noodle dish, while I had salt n pepper wings, mango salad and garlic rice. Leia went for mango salad, de boned chicken leg and boiled rice. The chicken leg came raw on a huge hit stone, sizzling away.

After food we still craved something more and had walked past an ice cream parlour so without much thought we went in, sat down and ordered two huge sundaes for Leia and I and Liam had a crepe with all the trimmings. They were incredible, just what we needed to refuel. It was still early and we had promised ourselves a lie in the next day so we went into the centre and managed to find a gay bar! Cambodia is quite open and accepting in the bigger towns much like Thailand, it was pretty empty though with just a couple of Belgians say nearby. After a drink and a wander round the others were tired so it was back to the hotel.

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Tomorrow is all about relaxing before hitting the temples sunset, Samnang had promised us a place that would be less busy than Angkor but just as good a sunset.

Siem Reap and the plate that crawled.

We got to the hotel no problem, just a very persistent tuk tuk driver who wouldn’t take no for an answer! He wanted to take us to the temples for sunrise, and in hindsight that would have been the better option.

It was 5:30am, the hotel room wouldn’t be ready till 1pm and we were cream crackered. So we sat in the lobby and tried to get some sleep. I couldn’t sleep and left to explore Siem Reap in the early hours, I had googled a few places for breakfast nearby, thinking I could treat myself.

After wandering down a dodgy clay road with some stray dogs and a couple of bikes zipping past I found the river. It’s beautiful and has bridges crossing it every few hundred metres, plus a huge waterwheel.

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Eventually I spotted the sister srey cafe, a big recommendation online and it didn’t disappoint! They are slightly more expensive than previous places but we realised it’s the same everywhere in Siem Reap. I had a rejuvenating juice containing Apple, carrot, and ginger plus bacon and scrambled egg with a pot of home made pesto. It was delicious and after so many hotel buffet breakfasts a welcome change.

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The menu even had useful phrases to learn. I got back to the hotel just as Leia and Liam were ready for breakfast, so I took them back to the same cafe where they had avocado on toast and bacon with eggs. They enjoyed it just as much as me! With breakfast sorted we went back to the hotel and relaxed by the pool while we waited for our room. After falling asleep Liam woke us up with the room ready and looking good for our 5 day stay, we couldn’t wait for a shower so jumped in and washed the last days worth of grime off.

After a quick rest I was ready to hit the town but Leia and Liam needed more rest, so I went off to scout the surroundings. As you get closer to the centre it gets more and more tourist filled, no wonder with the temples so close.

I ended up in a dodgy mexican place where I ordered a well needed 50c beer and fresh spring rolls. I chilled out there for a while writing some of this blog and watching the world go by. A couple of beers later and Leia came to meet me, Liam was having some problems so it was just the two of us out for the evening.

We decided to go to bugs cafe! A French owned restaurant which only serves….Bugs! It’s an entry point to eating things like crickets, larvae, ants and spiders. After chatting to the owner we lumped for the tasting platter for two.

http://bugs-cafe.e-monsite.com/

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We got a pitcher of beer to help wash it down and went for the tarantula donut, not wimping out with the samosa. It soon arrived and looked delicious and disgusting all in one.

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We got straight stuck in and went for the donut, thinking we’d leave the spring rolls till the end. The spider legs were actually really good, dipped in some sauce, the body had a more distinctive taste that was unrecognisable to my buds! I wasn’t sure about it, we had the crickets and larvae next, med style. These were excellent, and we enjoyed them a lot, soon forgetting what we were eating. The red ant feuillettes was up next, good but the ants in it were just there for effect.

We now just had the skewer with the spider, water bug, and cricket left before we got the treat of ant spring rolls! The spider went down easier than the first, dunked in mayo and mango chutney the whole skewer was good, as warned the waterbug was quite chewy.

The spring rolls were delicious and filled with ants, the dipping sauce really good. All in all we really enjoyed the meal, it’s hard to get over what you’re putting in your mouth but when it tastes good you start not to care. I wish we had gone back to try the burgers and desserts! Maybe one day.

After this we strolled down past a lovely night market and stopped at a bar doing three for two cocktails, I got a blue margarita and Leia got a gin with fresh lime and tonic, we got a negroni as the bonus but it was a little too strong!

With a stride in our step we were ready to try our hand at bartering, so we went into the bright lights of the markets and Leia scored herself with some converse for $7 less than asking price!

Trainers in hand we continued to walk back down towards the hotel but stopped off at X bar, a typical backpacker place with pool, table football, and an ageing band playing some good tunes. There was a great view of pub street here, the party street of Siem Reap.

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We had a few games of table football and a jug of beer, even losing badly to Tess from America and Paul from the Netherlands. It was getting late and we were templing early the next day so we went back to hotel to catch up on our sleep.

Phnom Tamao and the vicious gibbon.

After the previous night’s exploits we were up early again, this time to go to a wildlife conservation park called Phnom Tamao. Simon our tuk tuk driver picked us up at 8am and we spent the next two hours travelling along broken roads past beautiful countryside and large mounds of rubbish.

I had done quite a bit of research on the park as we didn’t want to go somewhere that treated the animals poorly. It was recommended in the lonely planet guide I have and trip advisor reviews were pretty good.

Once we turned off the main road we were on a dirt track with all the bumps and dips that come with it, but Simon is a pretty good driver and managed to avoid most of them. We went past a few beggars and Leia gave them a bit of money.

Once we arrived all the reviews of the place went out of my head, it looked atrocious. There was no one else there, a load of abandoned looking restaurants and some dodgy looking cages that were a bit dilapidated.

Once we got closer the enclosures were large, about the same size as Chester zoo if not bigger. Leia stood on a hole crawling with termites and jumped about a foot in the air, it was hilarious.

The first area had all manner of birds such as sea eagles, owls, kites and….chickens. They all looked well groomed and the sea eagle was huge!

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We wandered through and just about saw a leopard cat hiding in the trees of one enclosure, a slow loris curled up in a ball, otters running about playing, and a civet, an animal I’ve not come across before. As we stood and tried to entice the civet closer with some roots Liam had bought earlier, we heard a noise. There was a monkey sat behind us!

It was kinda cute but I’m not a big monkey lover, Liam enjoyed feeding it though and a couple more appeared wanting food. The civet gave them a good warning hiss to keep away from the cage too.

It was fun having these monkeys come up cheekily asking for food, but once the roots were packed up they paid us no attention.

We continued our wanderings and fed porcupines, saw how good crocodiles are at camouflage, and saw some very cute deer.

We walked through a gate near the crocodiles to view the water birds and Leia was convinced we were going into the croc pen, it was hilarious how jumpy she was, thinking that at any moment a croc would come shooting out of the undergrowth or water and get her.

The water birds turned out to be some herons, a staple of the British countryside. So we stopped for a drink at one of the many stalls dotted about and continued on.

There was an area for pangolins, the small armadillo like creature, but sadly none were there. We passed a gibbon enclosure and read that he had cataracts and was blind, Liam held out a piece of root and he took it, then he held our hands. It was adorable and such a great moment.

We then arrived at the sun bear enclosure, which contained loads of information about why they’re captured, only it was quite similar to the place in Laos. However we got to feed them from a high vantage spot and one bear made a sound like he was laughing hysterically,  it was so much fun.

There were a couple of lions but they were lying in the sun a bit too far away, about 8 huge pythons and some gibbon enclosures. The first one we got to there was a really cute baby one with two adults, they took some root but as Liam was stood by the cage one reached out and smacked him on the head!

It was quite funny and we didn’t think much of it as we moved on, reaching another gibbon cage, but as I held my hand out with some root the gibbon scratched down my hand and drew blood! It was a good reminder that however cute the animals looked they’re wild and untamed!

We avoided future gibbon enclosures and saw some jackals in the distance, tigers who had displayed unsettling behaviour of walking to and fro on the same path, it was the only time I felt sad. I don’t know if they had experienced trauma or whether it was am extended stay in the zoo that caused it.

We went to see the elephants, the final area but when we got there it was closed off. I realised it’s for people who make $150 donations and they get to meet the elephants, feed and wash them. One elephant lost it’s foot in a poacher trap but they made it a prosthetic foot! We did see her from a distance but it was a bit disappointing they weren’t closer.

With that we had walked in the sun for 4 hours and were ready to feel the breeze of a 2 hour tuk tuk journey back to Phnom Penh.

Arriving back we wanted food, and ended up in an Indian of all places they both had curries but I stuck with the tried and tested papaya salad.

It was all really good but we now had 5 hours to wait for our night bus to siem reap. We ended up walking through a park by the palace where loads of people were out playing, eating and drinking. It was lovely, Leia and Liam got coconut and green tea ice cream and we walked back to walkabout, a bar near the hotel.

Feeling drained we just had waters and Liam had a beer and we whiled away the time watching the goings on of Cambodian women and old fat westerners. It seemed like an eternity but we finally got into our tuk tuk to the bus.

On reading reviews we had decided on giant ibis as it had sleeping bunks, water, WiFi and power outlets. Only problem was that it was freezing! The air con was right above me and the thin blanket we got didn’t give us much cover. We were gutted and spent the next 6 hours or so shivering and trying to get some sleep, but I think we managed about 2 hours in total. The air con above me was broken so I couldn’t even turn it off.

We then arrived in Siem Reap with the usual sea of tuk tuks ready to whisk us off to our hotels at an inflated price.

Phnom Penh, Tuol Sleng and the killing fields.

To understand Cambodia and it’s people more we knew we had to go to Tuol Sleng prison and the killing fields. It’s one of the darkest periods in world history let alone Cambodian, with nations turning a blind eye to the fact that an estimated 3 million people were killed during the Khmer Rouge leadership. That warped communist ruling of Pol Pots lasted for four years. That’s a lot of death in a short period of time.

The prison is one of many that existed across Cambodia, in an society fearful of everyone and everything thousands of people were accused of being double agents, U.S. spies and rebels. Even members of his own regime were sent to the prison. It was formerly a school, but the regime abolished education and religion.

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At the prison men, women and even children were tortured till they got a confession, slung into tiny cells and eventually sent to the killing fields.

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It was horrific, but I’m not going to go into details, because I read a few blogs etc about the prison and the killing fields and I think it almost de-sensitized me to it. I knew what to expect so it maybe wasn’t as shocking. It still had me welling up, especially when I read the few survivors stories, including one man who almost had a happy ending only for it to be taken from his grasp.

After spending a couple of hours there our tuk tuk driver Simon appeared and took us to the killing fields, about 40 minutes away. I’d read that the journey was pretty bad on dodgy roads but it was alright, maybe the excitement of being back in a tuk tuk meant I didn’t notice.

We got to the killing fields and switched the audio tape you’re given on. You walk around and Cambodian survivor of the genocide narrates the awful things that happened here, where they found almost 9000 bodies in shallow graves when the Vietnamese ousted the regime.

It’s such a still place, no one spoke as they walked round over regular ground past unassuming trees, then you start each story and it becomes worse and worse. From the chemicals they used in the mass graves to hide the smell and make sure the people were definitely dead, to the communist liberation music they played at night to muffle the sounds of the dying.

As you walk along you see rags and some bones coming out of the ground, giving you a stark reminder of what lies beneath. I was literally crying the whole way round, especially at the stories of what people endured through the regime.

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Certain moments you genuinely cannot fathom how man can be so callous and evil. It ends with the skulls of the victims being held in giant glass case, housed within a monument to ensure that no one in Cambodia ever forgets what happened and why.

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I think one of the worst parts of the tour were Swedish visitors who got totally duped into thinking nothing was going on, and if anything communism was working here. They even tried to dispel refugee accounts as lies. Out of four delegates only one admits that what went on was despicable.

The other part was how the west ignored what was happening, at the war museum and here they talk about how what really happened might prevent the rest of the world ignoring atrocities but unfortunately we see even today they uncaring mentality of humans.

After this we needed cheering up, so we headed back with Simon and I investigated a nearby tattoo place for hygiene and cleanliness, passing the inspection and having great reviews online I went for it. Opting for a Cambodian Dragon with a folk tale detailed around it.

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One and a half hours of excruciating pain later and I had a new tattoo! It was well done and I love how it has come out, the other tattoos I had were nothing compared to this. I think because it was on the ribs and sensitive skin it hurt a lot more.

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Feeling sore but happy with the outcome I went to meet the others and we went in search of Cambodian Bbq.

We actually found a place pretty quickly! It was on the river and for $15 we got a selection of greens, rice noodles, and meat including beef, pork, chicken, fish, squid, prawns and frog!

The guy set it all up on a gas stove on the table, filled the outside of the dish with stock and greens, then started rubbing a lump of pork fat over the centre. I couldn’t wait! The waiter added various meats and some butter and we watched the juices spilling into the broth.

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We started filling our bowls up with the broth as the meat sizzled and spat in the middle. Once the meat was done we had a gorgeous sauce to dip it in.

After tucking into most of the meats and noodle broth the grande finale was here, frog legs! I’ve had them before in Paris but wasn’t that fussed, they’re just like a less flavoursome and smaller chicken wing.

The others had never tried it and tentatively poked and prodded it before nibbling away, it was a success! No one loved it but it tasted fine.

We were still craving something more but the dessert menu wasn’t great so we went back to rainbow bar for more drinks, on the way there was a huge bang, Leia looked like she thought the apocalypse was coming but as we rounded a corner we saw it was fireworks in celebration of independence day. They were really good and went on for ages. It was lovely being by the river watching these colours explode and cascade through the sky.

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Once we were some we were warmly welcomed back at the bar as Liam spent the night being a dj at the computer while Leia and I ate mounds of spicy peanuts and drank a few too many beers.

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It was fun but the few bars we’ve been to in Cambodia have all been a little creepy, too many money laden western men wanting an easy time with pretty young Cambodians.

After getting slightly lost and seeing a local being sick and looking very much worse for wear we made it back to the hotel and passed out.

Phnom Penh and eating pizza in a tropical storm.

The morning was very chilled, we got money out, a mix of dollar and Cambodian Riel, and dropped some laundry off. Once this was done we went to see the two sights of Phnom Penh, we headed to the river and enjoyed the view. It’s funny that the Mekong always seems to be there in your journey, no matter which country you’re in.

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It was a pleasant walk down past the royal palace, we didn’t go in but just viewed it from the exterior. It’s not high on our list of things to see.

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Walking further down we ended up at Tue independence monument, we would later find out that it was Cambodian independence the following day. It looked like the monument was being prepared.

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The walk was great and it was actually quite nice being back in the scorching heat after the constant rain. Ending up back in the hotel area we stopped at a place to eat ice cream sundaes and I had a great coconut shake. Leia had lost her phone the night before so after lunch we went over to a mall where she got herself a snazzy new $60 phone!

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While she sorted that out I wandered round the various stalls/shops and spotted football shirts for $4! I had to get an arsenal one as it was the north london derby that night. It was a little small but it fit.

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After this we dropped stuff off at the hotel and went in search of food. Unfortunately for us we had walked less than 5 minutes before the sky opened up and a massive storm began. It’s amazing how quickly the rain and weather escalates in SE Asia. We took shelter in the nearest place, a bar called black cat. The staff were really friendly and told us about the holiday tomorrow. It was also our first taste of Cambodian beer, we all agreed it’s good. The rain wasn’t letting up so we stayed there a while, but soon our hunger became too much so when a slight break in the weather came we ran towards the first place we saw.

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I had told myself I wouldn’t eat pizza while I’m away, that it would be the best treat when I got back to stuff my face full of it. However the place we ended up in just did pizza, for like, £2.50! It was sooooo good, while we were eating the rain continued to fall and lightning lit up the sky above us, with the boom of thunder mixing with the various traffic noises. It was fun and it’s the evening when the rain isn’t as much of a drag.

We had read that there was a gay bar in Phnom Penh and it was only a few minutes walk away, so we paid the nice owner of the pizza place and walked to rainbow bar. It was dead, the only people there were staff, but we couldn’t see anywhere nearby and sat down outside now the rain had ceased.

The staff were hilarious, one guy (Elise) was extremely camp and open about what it’s like to be gay in Cambodia. Elise was happy to answer any questions we had about his country and it was a nice way to spend the evening, even if he did get a bit much at times!

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Knowing the football was on we drank up after a few beers and went in the general direction of the hotel, knowing we saw a bar the night before that looked promising.

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Upon arrival we were sat down and told the football would be on soon. It was then that we realised it was full of Cambodian women and a scattering of white men. The atmosphere was okay though one woman took a fancy to me even though I showed her a picture of Peter. I don’t think she got the hint and was very eager. Thankfully she left me alone while the football was on.

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Leia and Liam couldn’t last the game and went home at half time, around 11:45. Arsenal were losing 1-0 at that point and a fellow fan came and had sat with us. Al from north london was in Cambodia on a whim and it was his 4th or 5th time here. It’s good to get advice about stuff and even better to have someone who knows a bit about football to talk to during a game.

The beer was going down well as the gunners equalised! 1-1 and that’s how it ended. With that it was bedtime for me so I said my farewells and disappeared into the night.

Chu chi tunnels and a sad farewell to Vietnam.

Up at 7am we had a quick breakfast, checked out and sorted leaving our bags at the hotel and embarked on the one to two hour bus journey out of the city.

After the war museum yesterday it’ll be good to see how the Vietnamese fought back in the face of greater weaponry and money. The bus journey was nice and we saw more familiar Vietnamese countryside, Liam chatting away to an Australian couple.

Arriving to a horde of buses and tourist groups we knew what to expect. We did a group bus with around twenty or so other people and had a tour guide to take us round. Tickets were included so we walked through a large tunnel similar to an underpass at home and emerged into the jungle!

First up on the tour was a video explaining more about the war and why the communists lived and fought in this area. As we were watching we could hear shooting in the distance. Then we were taken to a hole in the ground where north Vietnamese would hide and ambush the enemy. We could get in the hole if we wanted and I jumped at the chance, hopping down into the hole it was pretty snug and I got to hold the wooden camouflage board and sink down till I was hidden in the cubby hole.

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It was fun and I couldn’t wait to get down into the tunnels for real. Our guide explained some maps to us and showed us a bamboo trap. Next stop on the tour was an old tank that the Vietnamese had damaged, so we got up on it and got a picture! As we walked through we saw more traps that they used, plus kitchens and living areas. The smoke from the kitchen went through a tunnel to come out far away from the base.

After this we stopped for 15 minutes so people could shoot different guns at a range, I’m not a big fan of guns and passed and the others did the same. Not many, if any of our group had a go, we got ice cream instead. Finally it was time for the tunnels, you basically queue up and go down into a larger area before heading down again into a small tunnel big enough for me to squat walk through. You could go through the tunnel for 20metres up to 100metres with various exits along the way.

I went in first with Liam behind me, I had gone about 5 paces when I heard Leia shout ‘I’m going back guys!” in a worried voice. Liam and I persevered to 20 metres where I was left alone as Liam exited. I could hear voices coming from further along so I continued round and soon caught up with another group, we dropped down lower and lower and I started to think maybe we were lost! It was hot and hard to breath but eventually after sliding down a slope on my belly and then crawling up a slope we emerged to the rest of the group. We were hot sweaty and dirty but everyone who made it the whole way through were pleased.

We got to have a quick freshen up in water and sat down for some food that the Viet Cong would have eaten. So we got a tea of some kind and tapioca with a crushed peanut dip. The tapioca was a little dry for my tastes it kinda sucked the moisture out of your mouth, but the dip was good and I liked the tea.

With that we went through a few more living and working areas, including one which showed how they attached stuff to the bottom of their sandals to throw the enemy off their trail.

We also learnt that they would put enemy clothing or chilli and pepper around air holes to prevent dogs from sniffing them out.

It was a fun day and I would definitely recommend it. It was like being cattle herded through but I didn’t find us waiting for long periods. After this adventure it was back on the bus, where the guide apologised as he had left two people behind at the film area! It was pretty hilarious but I felt a bit sorry for him, it’s busy and you need to keep an eye on your guide and the other people in your group.

Arriving back at the hotel we grabbed our bags and marched down to the sun tourist. I’m going to miss Vietnam, the people have been amazingly friendly, the food incredible, and the history sad but with a positive outlook. Though I think with our schedule and the weather forecast it’s the right move. I definitely think I’ll be back one day, It’s been my favourite country so far.

We were soon on a dodgy bus with bags and bags of something covering three quarters of the bus. The chairs were pretty comfy though and it was only $10 for the 6.5 hour bus journey over the border to Phnom Penh.

The journey was uneventful, immigration was simple with the bus guy taking our passports and dollars for the visa and sorting everything out while we waited at a restaurant and had some cheap rice and meat.

The only downside were the amount of mosquitos around but we just slathered the deet on when we got back on the bus.

Once in Cambodia we were driving along dark roads when the bus stopped and the driver and bus guy got off, started inspecting the rear wheel and quickly got the toolbox out. It wasn’t long before they fixed whatever the issue was and we were back on our way, a little more nervous when going over pot holes.

We arrived in Phnom Penh but the bus, heading in our hotels direction turned off away from the centre. Surprise surprise it dropped us off at a spot with about 6 tuk tuks. On principal we refused as it was only a 20 minute walk to the hotel.

Immediately we noticed how much dirtier Phnom Penh is compared to other places we had been, and it was pretty late, 10:30 pm so we quickened our pace to the hotel, down one particularly dodgy looking street with rubbish strewn everywhere.

In the end it wasn’t so bad finding the SLA boutique hotel and the room was huge. It was meant for 6-8 people but was only £50 for two nights which was within budget. It was nice to have our own beds and space, after the bus journey and the dodgy walk up it was 11:30 once we settled and we just passed out one by one, ready to see what awaited us I’m the daylight.