Cambodia: Angkor Wat, truly breath-taking…

Early in the morning, Angkor Wat beckoned, the reason for being in Cambodia.

A UNESCO World Heritage site, originally constructed as a Hindu temple for the Khmer empire, gradually transforming into a Buddhist temple toward the end of the 12th century, certainly time for me to visit.  Continue reading

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To Cambodia: Siem Reap…

February 2014 seemed like a good time to whizz off to Cambodia and ultimately Angkor Wat.

Flying via Bangkok, a short flight onwards to Siem Reap, the town next to the Angkor Wat complex. Siem Reap is situated north of the Tonle Sap lake, a huge body of water with the southern river leading to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city.

A fairly flat farming area, roads busy with motorbikes and tuk-tuks but not so many cars. Cambodia is still recovering from its past of war and corruption, still rife and the poverty left as Pol Pot’s legacy from his Khmer Rouge regime.

Staying in a town centre hotel, a quick check-in, then off out to explore Siem Reap. The town centre is geared up for the tourist influx that it’s proximity to Angkor Wat brings and there was the usual contrast of poverty and luxury.

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This amazing statue was on my hotel doorstep…

Heading off, as usual to the local markets to get a feel for the people and atmosphere and the Siem Reap market centre was no disappointment. Packed tightly together, narrow aisles full of stalls selling everything from tourist wares, handbags, shoes, vegetables, meat, fish, sweets, it was bustling.

The usual Asian market scenario, but I love it, poking around stalls, checking out what type of vegetables are sold, scanning the fish stalls, trying on the shoes.. great fun with the lovely Cambodians trying hard to make a sale, but so welcoming with it.

Plenty of restaurants, a night market with desirable Cambodian local crafts, the town buzzes. It moves with the flow, catering to the tourist market with massage, fish pedicures, bars, street stalls and everything else that goes with entrepreneurship.

My first fish pedicure, perched up above the street, feet being gently nibbled, chatting with passers-by, drink in hand, great fun and so much life to look at, out there in the street.

But memories of the horror of Pol Pot’s regime are there to be seen, a reminder of Cambodia’s dark and painful past.

Angkor Wat will be my next post. It was a remarkable experience and deserves a post of its own.

Cambodia Travel information: Check out this link for passports that can obtain visas online and how to apply. Apply online for a visa, print out and take with you.

Bangkok to Siem Reap: 1 hr flight time.

Taxis and Tuk-tuks: Available at the airport.Taxis are probably more expensive, but it’s not much in the greater scheme of things and a Tuk-tuk is a fairly relaxed drive into town, we negotiated two sight-seeing days with our driver and he was an utter gem.

Hotel: Central Siem Reap, clean comfortable, pool. Good breakfast and loads of variety, I confess I have forgotten the name but one is spoilt for choice…

Food: Well just go for it, everything you want from pizza to local. Go local, it’s really good.

Be prepared: For intense humidity, poor living standards versus a spectacular Unesco World Heritage site. Women, take a fan, it helps. Men, I can’t really help apart from to suggest a man fan. Comfy shoes, a lot of ancient roadways around the Wat and it’s not rubberized! A HUGE GB memory card for all the pictures you are going to take. Small change for tips, helps appease the gap and received gratefully.

ENJOY: It’s a once in a lifetime experience…

 

Indonesia, Lombok, October 2014

Travelling from Jakarta to Lombok is approximately 2 hours, Jakarta airport is fairly fluid and relaxed. Garuda was the airline choice, there are many to choose from, but working on the premise their safety record showed up the best and had the most suitable flight times, it was the airline of choice. A comfortable flight, fabulous visibility, I was pinned to the window watching Java and Bali pass below me.

Lombok is a large island dominated by its volcano in the north. Tourism revolves around the main town of Mattaram and there are a few scattered luxury resorts to the south, but little else save for back packer hostels.

Staying slightly outside Mattaram meant a hire care was necessary. The island is too large to cover by motorbike and the 4wd booked was not as advertised- however, the car rental company didn’t quite realise we are not your average tourist when it comes to exploring off road, we do take cars where others don’t, so off we headed without making too much of a fuss…their mistake !

Over the week the west and southern section of the island was covered. Mattaram Town is a melee of small streets, packed with people,buildings, motorbikes, cars, small trucks all jostling for space. It was noisy and hot,with lots of character, but sadly couldn’t be avoided when trying to head off to quieter areas.

Picking up on a hint from a fellow traveller, we headed off to find “Pink Coral beach” … crossing the island on the main two lane highway, dodging bicycles, trucks and pedestrians was a slightly fraught journey until we reached the dirt road that took us to the  south-eastern tip of Lombok. Here the track was rough and our inadequate 2wd rental was put to the test. Reaching the tip, some spectacular views, high on cliffs with sheer drops down to an unforgiving sea, it was time to get back to the safety of the terrible dirt road.

Pink Coral beach had a long undrivable track down the cliffs so it was time to do some walking and not think about the journey back up . At sea level, the pink sand was an unusual sight, ground from the red coral reefs offshore with idyllic turquoise seas, it was a remote paradise. Some small beach shacks, a few boats disgorging passengers, but further down the beach, not a soul in sight. Lying in the sea, in this remote place, I thought of how small my world was and how much is out there to be seen …

Back on the road again after the long haul back up from the beach and turning left off the track, we were heading to the south coast, it was a long and bumpy ride through jungle, with lizard sightings – no photos, they moved too fast !  A small village miles from anywhere indicated we were closer to the south, the villagers were poor, homes are raised wooden structures, some with makeshift walls, with usually a washing line and the inhabitant’s clothes on hangers under the cover of the palm roof : there is no visible furniture, only hammocks and raised platforms for sleeping, a fragile life in this humid area.

The south coast was spectacular, but with no-one visible anywhere.We could have been the only people on this coast… A track to the beach was found and bumping down it to the sweep of a vast bay, some huts to the back , we were completely alone. The tide was high and about 1km out there was a rock formation that marked the reef . Each sweep of coastline repeated this wild and idyllic seascape. As the tide dropped, the reefs became populated by villagers collecting shell fish for food.

In one of the stops, Monkeys were on the high cliffs and we saw them scampering down the cliffs out onto the exposed reef .. there was little of interest shell wise, until I came across a juvenile lambis chiagra (missed the photo opportunity), left in a rock pool as the tide had retreated. Beautifully defined, it was a prize on an otherwise barren beach and was not left behind…

Further along the coast we came to Kuta, a dusty backpacker town, handwritten signs, kaftans and wifi cafes, one or two luxury resorts tucked away behind high coconut matting walls, idyllic beaches, one could just lose themselves here in this escapist place.

Ikat weaving is traditional in Indonesia and in Lombok there are several villages where the traditional craft is still carried out. Sukarara is one and traditionally women must learn the art of weaving before being considered as marriageable.

Invited into a weaver’s house, I watched this age old craft with interest, 2 generations of women were sitting on the ground creating the most intricate of textiles, surrounded by small children, chickens, dogs and poverty . A buy was inevitable and it’s a treasured part of my souvenir collection. Leaving the village, I came across the Co-operative, a wonderful treasure-house of woven textiles.

For someone like myself, who loves fabrics, it was utter heaven .. I didn’t know what to choose, but finally settled on a beautiful blanket, sofa throw and a “piece of fabric that if you are inventive will look great anywhere ” item … it decorates my chair, love it to bits.

Wonderful memories of this beautiful place, Indonesia is still on the to do list; its such a huge nation,with so many different islands to visit .

One thing that struck me about our journey, Indonesia is a very colourful and tolerant Muslim nation. Coming from the Gulf, where clothing is traditionally black for women, it was such a change to see the women dressed in a respective fashion according to their religion, but with such vibrant colours and patterns. It is the largest Muslim nation in the world with over 62% of the world’s Muslims, but it is a way of life that mixes with other religions and creeds, seemingly without conflict in the under-developed areas of the nation.

Living in the Gulf, where Sharia law and religious ideals are part of everyday life for nationals and expatriates, it was refreshing to see the Muslim world from another perspective. I’m used to the prayer calls, the Abaya and Hijab are part of everyday culture. The Friday mosque parking hazards are just part of Dubai and I respect it, I’m choosing to live in a country that applies Sharia law, but it was a different and refreshing view on Islam and the acceptance of integration without the same restrictions applied to those not of the faith . Maybe its because there is a high level of poverty and faith is part of survival without expectation .

Indonesia is vast, this visit only touched a tiny part of it .. I search on Google maps and can see for me, another visit to a different area is surely part of the plan..Nusa Tenggari, Papua, Timor..where do I go next ..?

Some Eastern sunsets to close my story…