A Travellerspoint blog

Chill Time in The Philippines.

Two very relaxing holidays. 1997 and 2000.

sunny

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Hubbie in Puerto Galera.

Two Relaxing Holidays.

We have been to the Philippines twice. The first time was to Peurto Galera on Oriental Mindoro. The second was to Cebu. Both were resort style holidays; perfect for chilling out from the stress of living and working in Hong Kong. We both love swimming and the water, especially around Peurto Galera, was some of the cleanest I have ever had the pleasure to swim in. However, this is not at all our usual style of travelling. We are much more into visiting cities.

Peurto Galera

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Puerto Galera.

On our first visit we stayed in a resort called Coco Beach Resort. It was pretty much in the middle of nowhere. To get there we were picked up by bus from Manila Airport, then took a boat to the resort. The sea was blissfully calm on the way there and nauseatingly stormy on the way back. We arrived stressed and got into an argument about something while checking in. I was later ashamed of this as it is such a laid back, friendly place and there's really no need to stress about anything here.

On the journey to Coco Beach Resort.

On the journey to Coco Beach Resort.

At Coco Beach Resort.

At Coco Beach Resort.

At Coco Beach Resort.

At Coco Beach Resort.

We spent our time swimming, walking, eating and drinking. The hotel ran a boat to a different beach each day and sometimes we would go along. The locals always knew where the boat would be and they would go there with stuff to sell to the tourists. One guy carried a huge cool box filled with beer. Peter bought cans from him on our first beach trip, then more on the second. On the third our 'beer man' as we had started to call him just deposited his cool box next to Peter saying it would save him walking back and forward so much.

Boats, Coco Beach Resort.

Boats, Coco Beach Resort.

Glass bottomed boat at the resort.

Glass bottomed boat at the resort.

On the beach.

On the beach.

Peter with his beer man.

Peter with his beer man.

Happy with his beer.

Happy with his beer.

One hilarious thing about the resort was it had its own revolving restaurant. We had a great meal there but it was so jerky you would swear it was being turned by hand. It had hanging pot plants that swayed back and forth throughout the meal. The food was great, but we felt seasick. We laughed all the way through the meal. By the end of our stay we were totally chilled out people.

Revolving Restaurant.

Revolving Restaurant.

Revolving Restaurant.

Revolving Restaurant.

At Coco Beach Resort we had no running hot water in our room. We were assigned a house mother and father who were supposed to run back and forth getting us everything we wanted. We were to call for them by pulling a rope on a branch that rang a bell in their house. Our house mother and father were lovely but they were really old and we did not like to ask them to run after us so we never contacted them. Then they came to see us saying they were deeply distressed that we never wanted anything, so we had to start finding stuff for them to do to keep them happy. It was a strange place.

Cebu

Our second visit was to Cebu. We stayed in the resort area of Mactan but visited Lapu Lapu and Cebu City. Cebu City had some interesting historical sights, but also some of the worst poverty I have ever seen. I was asked for money by a young girl ­ maybe around eight years old. She was dressed in a sack. She was carrying a baby and she had a dreadful eye ­disease. I did not give her money. I don't believe in encouraging people to exploit their children for begging purposes, but then I started to have nightmares about her that went on for months. Her poverty really distressed me though I did nothing at all to help her.

The Philippines has some wonderful clean silvery white beaches and some of the clearest sea water I have ever seen. It is perfect for swimming, snorkeling, diving. There was lots of beautiful coral, too.

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Beaches.

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Beaches.

Fort San Pedro in Cebu City was one of the first Spanish settlements in the Philippines. The walls of the fort are around 20 feet high and 8 feet thick. Its towers are around 30 feet high. Construction of the fort began in 1565. The fort was used by the Japanese army during the Second World War. It was also once used as barracks by the American army. It has even been home to the Cebu City Zoo. Now it is a museum owned by the tourism authority.

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Fort San Pedro .

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Fort San Pedro .

Fort San Pedro.

Fort San Pedro.

Fort San Pedro.

Fort San Pedro.

Fort San Pedro.

Fort San Pedro.

The Philippines is a strongly Catholic country. There are many beautiful churches here. We visited the Basilica del Santo Nino, Cebu City. It was built in 1565. This basilica houses the oldest and most celebrated Christian relic in the Philippines – the image of Senor Santo Nino de Cebu -the Infant Jesus.

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Basilica del Santo Nino.

Church.

Church.

Magellan Cross.

Magellan Cross.

We enjoyed wandering around the colourful market in Lapu Lapu. We bought some very cheap shell based souvenirs and took photos of the colourful stalls. I was intending to try out my bargaining skills here but it was so ridiculously cheap I did not even bother.

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Market.

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Market.

It is my impression that people in the Philippines love music. Everywhere we go in Asia always has a band from the Philippines. When we were in the Philippines, especially in Cebu, we always seemed to be surrounded by bands.

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Making music.

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Making music.

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Making music.

We took a trip to Cebu City and were brought to visit this guitar making workshop. As well as watching people make the guitars we also listened to them playing them. Music seems to be a way of life there.

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Guitar making workshop.

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Guitar making workshop.

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Guitar making workshop.

As I said above The Philippines is a Catholic country and many people are very religious. On our Easter trip to Cebu we watched icons being prepared for a procession. I would have loved to have seen the procession, too.

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Easter in Cebu.

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Easter in Cebu.

Working out how to get round by local transport was part of the fun of our trip to the Philippines. We enjoyed travelling on the jeepneys and we also enjoyed travelling on the tricycles. Unlike in more developed countries transport always seems to appear out of nowhere when you need it most. One night when we were staying in Puerto Galera we foolishly ate out in a seaside resort we had walked through the countryside to get to. When we finished eating, it was dark and we did not want to walk all the way home. We were debating what to do when a voice out of the darkness offered to take us back by boat. We agreed a price and climbed on board. We travelled across the sea in the darkness unable to see who was steering the boat or anything. When we arrived back at Coco Beach Resort and there was a bit of light, we realised we had been taken home by a very young child. He was pretty amazing at sailing through the darkness though.

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Tricycle.

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Jeepney.

Puerto Galera.

Puerto Galera.

Puerto Galera.

Puerto Galera.

Puerto Galera.

Puerto Galera.

Puerto Galera.

Puerto Galera.

The best thing about the Philippines is probably its warm, welcoming, happy, friendly people. That's what makes a stay there so relaxing. The Philippines is a great place to simply chill out, because of its friendliness and hospitality.

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Friendly faces.

Posted by irenevt 22:29 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

Temples in the Jungle.

Siem Reap

sunny

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Me in Ta Phrom.

After spending a couple of days in Phnom Penh, we flew to Siem Reap. At the domestic airport in Phnom Penh there were hardly any other travellers. In fact when I first arrived, there were the grand total of two. I looked across at them and, believe it or not, realised I knew one of them. We had studied on the same teacher training course. Well, we had a laugh and a chat and then went about our own business, but we met repeatedly during our stay. This adds to my impression that tourists to Siem Reap are sucked into a set tourist circuit without even knowing it.

We were picked up at the airport in Siem Reap by an included transfer. Our intention was to swim and eat at our hotel then set out on foot to explore the temples next day. Instead our transfer told us, 'Hurry up! We will take you to see the sunset.' After some discussion, we agreed. Again this is commonplace; your transfer becomes your holiday guide. The price was reasonable and the itinerary acceptable, so no reason to complain except that I like to feel in control of my own holiday, not at the mercy of someone who thinks they know what I like. Anyway, it all worked out OK in the end. We saw lots; we paid a fair price for doing so. The Angkor Wat Temple complex is fantastic and there are so many ancient remains to see in this area. A visit here is wonderful. The remains are both extensive and fascinating.

We stayed in Siem Reap in 2002 so I have long forgotten the name of our hotel. Fortunately, it is written on two of my photos so I know it was the Nokor Phnom Hotel, but when I googled this to make sure, it looks nothing like my photos especially the shape of the pool. Wonder if they redesigned it at some point. Anyway the hotel was on the Airport Road and a bit far from the centre. The staff were friendly and helpful and we had some very pleasant meals there. I remember losing our room key down a hole in the decking around the pool. We could not get it back out again. We had to be issued with a new key, but they did not charge me for it. They actually found it quite funny. We could all see the key but the only way to get to it was to take the decking apart.

Our Room.

Our Room.

The Pool.

The Pool.

The Pool.

The Pool.

The Pool.

The Pool.

The Pool.

The Pool.

Dinner by the pool.

Dinner by the pool.

Dinner by the pool.

Dinner by the pool.

Dinner by the pool.

Dinner by the pool.

As I explained above we were collected by included transfer from Siem Reap Airport. We fully expected just to be dropped off at our hotel and left to get on with it. Instead the driver started the hard sell for seeing a spectacular sunset. Eventually we agreed. There is nothing wrong with Bakheng Hill for viewing a sunset except that everyone else in Siem Reap has been brought there by their drivers for the same purpose. We waved to our friends from the airport again. One of many times we saw them. The temple on Bakheng Hill was one of the first to be constructed when the Khmer Empire moved its capital from Roluos to Angkor in the late 9th century AD. We tried to escape the crowd and wander around the quieter areas of the temple complex. That was more interesting than sitting around waiting. We noticed some people came up the hill by elephant to view the sunset. On this occasion the sunset was not especially spectacular. I guess that is all down to luck.

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Bakheng Hill.

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Bakheng Hill.

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Bakheng Hill.

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Bakheng Hill.

Bakheng Hill.

Bakheng Hill.

On the second day (first full day) we visited the temples. We saw Angkor Wat. This temple dates from the 12th century and the image of the temple is so famous it even appears on the Cambodian flag. The city of Angkor first attracted the interest of Europeans in the 1800s when Cambodia was colonized by the French. Angkor was the capital of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to the 15th centuries. Angkor Wat temple was built by King Suryavarman II in the 12th century as a funerary temple that would hold his remains when he eventually died. Many of the bas ­reliefs in the temple depict scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata. By the 16th century much of Angkor Wat was abandoned and overgrown with jungle. When Cambodia became a colony of France, Europeans began searching for the lost city of Angkor which at that point was completely overgrown with jungle.

As we wandered around we saw some wonderful stone carvings on the walls. We even scrambled up staircase after staircase to get to the highest level of the temple. When we reached the top, we enjoyed the view then set about trying to get back down. The stairs that seemed steep on the way up were positively vertical sheer drops on the way back down. I suddenly realised I was afraid of heights. My thanks to the pleasant European male tourist who was trying to get down behind me when I suddenly announced I was too terrified to move another step. He patiently talked me out of my fear. If it wasn't for him I'd still be up there now!!! Having looked at more recent blogs I see wooden staircases have now been put on top of the stones, maybe because they are safer to use or maybe to protect the temple itself. I'll include some photos of how it used to be.

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Angkor Wat.

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Angkor Wat.

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Angkor Wat.

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Angkor Wat.

The Dreaded Stairs.

The Dreaded Stairs.

The Dreaded Stairs.

The Dreaded Stairs.

The Dreaded Stairs.

The Dreaded Stairs.

Angor Wat.

Angor Wat.

Angor Wat.

Angor Wat.

Angor Wat.

Angor Wat.

Angor Wat.

Angor Wat.

Angor Wat.

Angor Wat.

Angor Wat.

Angor Wat.

Passageway.

Passageway.

Art in the temple.

Art in the temple.

Art in the temple.

Art in the temple.

Art in the temple.

Art in the temple.

Art in the temple.

Art in the temple.

We also visited Angkor Thom. This was the last capital of the Khmer Empire. It was a fortified city. Within its walls stood the royal palace and at its centre stood the Bayon with its enigmatic smiling faces. The city of Angkor Thom forms a huge square, with each of its sides about three kilometers (1.9 miles) long. It was once surrounded by defensive walls. A moat with a width of 100 meters (328 feet) surrounds the outer wall. Each wall has an entry tower and a long causeway over the moat except on the east side where there are two entrances instead of one. A small temple known as Prasat Chrung stands at each corner of the wall around the city of Angkor Thom. The causeways leading to each entry tower are lined by a row of 54 stone figures on each side – demons on the right and gods on the left­ to make a total of 108 mythical beings guarding the city of Angkor Thom. The demons are depicted with grimacing expressions and wear military headdresses while the gods look serene and wear conical headdresses. A huge serpent with nine heads in the shape of a fan is located at the beginning of each causeway. Its body extends the length of the causeway and is held by the gods and demons.

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Angkor Thom.

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Angkor Thom.

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Angkor Thom.

Angor Thom.

Angor Thom.

Angor Thom.

Angor Thom.

The Bayon is a mysterious place. It is located in the centre of the ancient remains of Angkor Thom. The Bayon was built in the late 12th to early 13th century, by King Jayavarman VII. He was a devout Buddhist. Even today the Bayon is regarded as one of the most enigmatic parts of the remains. The Bayon is covered with over 2000 large serene faces carved into the walls of its 54 towers. 'The faces with slightly curving lips, eyes placed in shadow by the lowered lids utter not a word and yet force you to guess much', wrote P Jennerat de Beerski in the 1920s. It is widely believed that the four faces on each of the towers are images of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (a bodhisattva is an enlightened being in Buddhism who has achieved a high level of compassion) and that they represent the omnipresence of the king who sees everything going on around him. The characteristics of these faces ­a broad forehead, downcast eyes, lips that curl upwards slightly ­ form the famous 'Smile of Angkor'. It is a moving experience to wander around the Bayon being gazed upon on all sides by these huge stone faces.

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The Bayon.

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The Bayon.

The Bayon.

The Bayon.

The Bayon.

The Bayon.

The Bayon.

The Bayon.

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Hubbie with statues.

The Terrace of the Elephants is located in the Royal Square of Angkor Thom. It was built at the end of the 12th century. The Terrace of the Leper King is located in the northwest corner of the Royal Square of Angkor Thom. It has a statue depicting the Hindu god Yama, the god of death. The statue was called the "Leper King" because when it was found it was discoloured and covered with moss and looked like a person with leprosy. This idea also tied in with a Cambodian legend of an Angkorian king Yasovarman I who suffered from leprosy.

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Terrace of the elephants.

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Terrace of the elephants.

Of all the temples Ta Prohm was my favourite. Unlike the other temples much of it has been left covered with jungle, just like when it was re-discovered. Huge trees sprout out of its walls. Giant roots smother its stones. Many of its walls lie in collapsed heaps. Wandering around it you feel like an intrepid explorer who has just discovered it for the first time.

Ta Prohm was built around the mid ­12th century to early 13th century by King Jayavarman VII and was dedicated to the mother of the king. More recently some scenes from the movie Tomb Raider were filmed here.

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Ta Phrom.

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Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom.

As well as looking at the temples we had a good look around the town of Siem Reap. While wandering around, we stumbled upon the home of Siem Reap's master sculptor Dy Preung. He has made a miniature replica of Angkor Wat and other temples and displays them in his garden. He was friendly and happy to pose for photos. His works were very impressive.

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Miniature models of the temples.

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Miniature models of the temples.

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Miniature models of the temples.

Miniature Models of Temples.

Miniature Models of Temples.

Another must do thing in Siem Reap is to visit the Raffles Grand Hotel D'Angkor. We did not stay here. We just like exploring famous old hotels. This hotel dates from 1929 and was the most luxurious accommodation available for the tourists who flocked out to Siem Reap to see the famous rediscovered temples. The hotel has beautiful gardens. Address: 1 Vithei Charles De Gaulle, Khum Svay Dang Kum.

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Hubbie at Raffles Grand Hotel D'Angkor.

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Public Fountain near Raffles Grand Hotel D'Angkor.

We also went to a special dinner with live Cambodian traditional dancing. Again this was part of the tourist circuit.

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Traditional Cambodian dancing.

Traditional Cambodian Dancing.

Traditional Cambodian Dancing.

We also took a day trip from Siem Reap to Tonle Sap Lake. On the way we asked our driver to stop in a couple of villages set on the river. We had a walk around looking at the wooden village houses. At one point the very polluted river water looked beautiful covered with a blanket of water lilies. When we reached the lake, we took a pleasant boat trip.

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Cambodian villages.

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Cambodian villages.

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Cambodian villages.

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Cambodian villages.

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Cambodian villages.

Tonle Sap Lake is the largest fresh water lake in South East Asia. Its size changes in the monsoon and dry season. During the monsoon from June to October, the lake is filled by water flowing from the Mekong River and expands to around 10,000 square Kilometers. In places it can be 14 metres deep. In the dry season from November to May its size is around 3,000 square kilometers and it is around 2m deep. This lake is home to over 300 species of fresh water fish, snakes, crocodiles, tortoises, turtles and otters. More than 100 varieties of water birds including storks and pelicans live here. Around the edges of the lake there are many houses on stilts making up Tonle Sap's floating villages. More than 50 per cent of the fish consumed in Cambodia comes from this lake.

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Tonle Sap Lake.

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Tonle Sap Lake.

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Tonle Sap Lake.

Posted by irenevt 05:31 Archived in Cambodia Comments (3)

Phnom Penh

The City on Penh's Hill. 2002.

sunny

My husband at the Royal Hotel. - Phnom Penh

My husband at the Royal Hotel. - Phnom Penh

A few days in Phnom Penh

When we said we were going to Phnom Penh, one of the people I worked with at the time told me his friend was murdered there; stabbed to death on the steps of his hotel the moment he stepped outside. While I had to agree this was dreadful, I argued that bad things can happen anywhere. He did not agree and kept saying I should cancel my holiday or we would also be killed.

Out for a drink.

Out for a drink.

We did not cancel, but we did arrive in Phnom Penh rather nervously. We had a transfer to the hotel, checked in and went to our room. We overlooked a large dusty market, We were going to go out then we heard something that sounded like gun shots outside (It could just have been a car backfiring, but my nerves were rather on edge). I felt too scared to go out, but my husband said I was being ridiculous so out we were going. However, prior to us setting off he turned on the TV and to his astonishment saw that a Walsall v Fulham match was on the telly. My husband is an obsessive Walsall fan and since they are not the most successful of teams, the chance of them being on the telly is not that high, but there they were. There was no shifting him after that. While I would normally have been really angry at staying in, I was in fact relieved. It all looked better in the morning and we solved the problem of me being afraid by hiring a car with driver for our stay. I don't normally act like this and even I think I was over-reacting and being silly, but I had endured weeks of scare stories and they had affected me.

Chuffed to see Walsall on the telly.

Chuffed to see Walsall on the telly.

Our Hotel

I don't even remember the name of our hotel, but I do remember it was rather strange, We went off to have a look at the swimming pool. It had lots of people swimming and sunbathing. We decided to go back to our room, get our swimming stuff and have a cool, refreshing swim. When we returned, around 10 minutes later, it was fast approaching dusk and everyone had mysteriously disappeared. 'Great!' we thought. 'We have the whole pool to ourselves.' We got in the water and whoosh something swooped past our heads, again whoosh, another one. They were bats and they were swarming out of the roofs of nearby buildings at dusk. These ones were having a drink from our pool. Soon there were so many of them, we had to abandon the swim. Back inside the hotel which had rooms built around a central atrium, we saw that several bats had got in and were circling around the inner courtyard. It was a bit like starring in a horror movie. I read prior to coming to Phnom Penh that many buildings are infested with bats including the roof of the National Museum. Apparently the sight of the bats swarming out of that roof at dusk is quite amazing.

At the pool before the bats arrived.

At the pool before the bats arrived.

At the pool before the bats arrived.

At the pool before the bats arrived.

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Market near our hotel.

Market near our hotel.

Market near our hotel.

Well, despite everything I have said above, we actually really enjoyed our stay in Phnom Penh. We visited the very moving and distressing Tuol Sleng Prison, the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, the National Museum, the Russian Market, Phnom Wat on Penh Hill, the famous Foreign Correspondents Club, the Luxurious Royal Hotel, a casino boat and Phnom Penh's three rivers. We were planning to go to the Killing Fields too, but having found Tuol Sleng so depressing we decided not to go. I think travel should be informative, but I don't need to feel miserable every day. Friends subsequently told us the Killing Fields were nowhere near as distressing as Tuol Sleng. Well, we'll never know, not until our next visit at least.

Overall Phnom Penh was an interesting place, but whether you would like it or not depends on how you feel about bats, really.

We hired a car and driver to get around and started our day by visiting Tuol Sleng Prison. This building was once a secondary school, but when the Khmer Rouge rose to power in 1975, they used it as Security Prison 21. Apparently Tuol Sleng means Hill of the Poisonous Trees. The prison was used until the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979 and as many as 20,000 prisoners, victims of Pol Pot's insane regime, were killed there.

The first few rooms we looked in were former prison torture cells containing metal bed frames and instruments of torture which lay scattered around the floor. Pictures showed how some of these torture instruments were used. There were dried patches of blood on the floor. To say there was an unpleasant atmosphere in this place would be putting it very mildly.

A later room showed photographic portraits of the people who had been murdered in this place. Some of them looked at the camera in terror, others smiled and seemed totally unaware what was about to happen to them, some were just children, even babies. Again it was deeply disturbing.

One room had a map of Cambodia made from the bones of the Tuol Sleng victims. When we got to the end of the visit, I joined some other overwhelmed visitors in the need to sit down and cry for a while before I could proceed with the day. I think Tuol Sleng should be visited and people should know about the atrocities that happened there, but I said to my husband: 'Let's not go ahead with our next day's planned visit to the killing fields as there's only so much misery a person can take before it becomes too unbearable.'

I only took one picture. It was not somewhere I wanted to remember. However, it ended up being somewhere I will never forget. Address: Corner of Street 113 and Street 350.

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Tuol Sleng.

After Tuol Sleng we were happy to go anywhere to recover from visiting it. We went to the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda. The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh was built in the late 1860s during the reign of King Norodom. There are several palace buildings each with a steep tiled roof. The palace's Grand Throne Hall was once the site for the coronation of the Khmer kings. In the same compound, you can also visit the beautiful Silver Pagoda. The floors of this temple are covered with around 5,000 blocks of silver which weigh more than 6 tons. The temple courtyard has a covered walkway and its walls are decorated with murals of Cambodia's history and mythology. The buildings, art work and gardens here are all very beautiful and well worth seeing. It reminded me a little of the Royal Palace in Bangkok. Address: Samdech Sothearos Blvd.

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The Royal Palace.

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Scene from the walls.

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The Silver Pagoda.

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Scene from the walls.

Royal Palace.

Royal Palace.

Royal Palace.

Royal Palace.

Royal Palace.

Royal Palace.

Royal Palace.

Royal Palace.

Royal Palace.

Royal Palace.

Royal Palace.

Royal Palace.

Then we headed for Wat Phnom. This wat gives the city of Phnom Penh its name. According to an old legend in the 14th century a woman called Penh found several sacred Buddha statues in the Mekong River and placed them on a small hill. A wat was built on the hill to house these objects. Phnom is Cambodian for hill. Phnom Penh means Penh's Hill. The hill is 27m high. The main entrance to the wat is via the eastern staircase. This is guarded by long statues of ngas, ­mythical snakes and also by lion statues. Address: Norodom Blvd.

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Wat Phnom.

Wat Phnom.

Wat Phnom.

Wat Phnom.

Wat Phnom.

Then we headed to the National Museum. This museum is housed in a red brick Khmer style building which was built by the French in 1917. Inside there is a collection of Khmer sculptures from the 4th to the 14th century. The museum has a pretty courtyard with ponds and trees. I read somewhere that the roof of the museum is home to a colony of bats which swarm out at dusk. Admission: $3.00/person. Open every day, from 8:00am­ to. Address: Samdech Sothearos Boulevard.

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At the museum.

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At the museum.

At the Museum.

At the Museum.

At the Museum.

At the Museum.

After the museum we headed for the Russian Market. This market was used mainly by foreigners during the 1980s and most of these foreigners were Russians so it became known as the Russian Market. It sells a wide variety of things including souvenirs, silk, fabrics, jewellery. It is also very photogenic. Hours: Every day from 7.00am ­ to 5.00pm.

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The Russian Market.

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The Russian Market.

Next we headed to Phnom Penh's famous Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC). The FCC is housed in a three story French colonial building. It faces onto the Tonle Sap River near its confluence with the Mekong. The FCC dates from the 1990s and was once a hotbed of journalistic activity. The FCC is now a restaurant and bar open to the public, not a private club. We really enjoyed eating and drinking here and loved the old typewriters that adorned the walls.

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Foreign Correspondents Club

Foreign Correspondents Club.

Foreign Correspondents Club.

Foreign Correspondents Club.

Foreign Correspondents Club.

Then we got our driver to take us to the confluence of the three rivers. Phnom Penh is situated on the banks of three rivers the Tonlé Sap, Mekong and Bassac. There were several lovely restaurants on the banks of the Tonle Sap near where it joined with the Mekong. We also got our driver to take us to a point where the three rivers meet.

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The Three Rivers.

At the River.

At the River.

We also had a look at Phnom Penh's poshest hotel - Le Royal Phnom Penh. We were not fortunate enough to stay here, but visited here as we had heard it was a beautiful hotel which had recently been refurbished. We wandered the grounds and looked at the pool. It was certainly lovely. This 5 star hotel dates from 1929. It has played host to some famous guests such as Jacqueline Kennedy, Somerset Maugham, Charles de Gaulle, Charlie Chaplin and André Malraux. Between 1970 and 1975 many journalists working in Phnom Penh resided here. Parts of the film The Killing Fields were set in the hotel. This hotel was bought up by the Raffles group and totally refurbished. It re-­opened for business in 1997. Address: Old 26 August Site, Samdech Sothearoh Blvd., Sankat Tonle Bassac, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

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The Royal Hotel.

Posted by irenevt 03:41 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Bagan - The City that Tramples on Enemies.

Myanmar.

sunny

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New Year's Eve Entertainment.

On arrival at Bagan Airport we had to pay a US dollar fee to enter Bagan itself as a tourist. Then, when we went to get our luggage, we found a person attached to it. That is he was holding it and would not let go unless we paid him. I do realise that he was poor, but how is this any different from mugging people? I was really angry. I tried forcibly removing him, shouting at him. In the end we had to pay him. It was not a good start.

We arrived in Bagan on New Year's Eve. Our hotel was doing a buffet with traditional entertainment. We decided to go, but this proved to be a big, big mistake. My own fault, I ate too much and consumed too many rum sours - a drink I would not normally touch. As a result I was up all night being sick and set out to look at Bagan the next day like a member of the living dead. Oh my head! I have never been so ill in my life.

We only had one full day to see Bagan, so despite feeling ill ­ (did I say ill? Dying more like) I had to get up and wander around. Unlike Mandalay and Yangon where you pay an entrance fee for everything, in Bagan you must pay an entrance fee when you land at the airport. After that you are free to wander around all the pagodas you want to see. I suppose this is better.

From the 9th to 13th centuries Bagan was a capital city. During the golden age of Bagan between the 11th and 13th centuries, over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed here. Around 2200 of these still remain today. Wandering around the pagodas is a joy. There are so many, each one slightly different. Being here is amazing. This is a unique and stunning place, but keep off the rum sours.

The Irrawaddy River in Bagan is not as busy as in Mandalay but it is pretty here and well worth a short stroll. It is especially beautiful at sunset.The Irrawaddy River begins among the glaciers of the Himalayas and flows for 1,348 miles across a wide alluvial plain before merging with the Indian Ocean.

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The Irrawaddy River.

There are hundreds of pagodas in Bagan. You can either select a few that appeal to you or do as we did - just set off rather aimlessly and visit what you can. Either way, it is a unique and fascinating place. My photos are not great, but then I was enduring the hang over from hell on this visit. I don't think I could hold the camera straight. In addition to the temples we came across a big wheel. This was worked by people climbing up it and jumping from gondola to gondola to make it move. I kid you not. It was one of the most dangerous things I have ever seen.

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The Pagodas.

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The Pagodas.

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The Pagodas.

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The Pagodas.

Bagan like the other parts of Burma we visited was fascinating just to wander around watching people getting on with their daily life. The way people dress and the way people travel from place to place is extremely picturesque here.

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Wandering around.

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Wandering around.

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Wandering around.

When we left Bagan and flew back to Yangon, I wanted to avoid having to physically remove anyone from my luggage, so I watched what the locals did. They walked out onto the air field and took their own bags out of the hold of the plane, so I did the same. Some locals laughed at me, others clapped. I did not care; there is only so much of having an illuminated dollar sign above your head you can take.

Similarly, when we left Yangon, we took a taxi to the airport as we were getting ready to park, people ran at the back of our car to pull our cases out and insist on carrying them for a fee, but we were already savvy enough to know this would happen and got there first. We pulled our cases into the back of the car where we were sitting. At no point were we prepared to let them go until we had them safely checked in. Our taxi driver looked at us with admiration and we pointed out that we had been ripped off continuously since we arrived. This is the downside of Burma; people just see you as a source of money. I have been to other poor countries where this is the case, but this was the worst for me. It was constant. This was in 2007; maybe things have changed. I hope so.

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Burmese Street Scene.

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Burmese Street Scene.

Posted by irenevt 00:39 Archived in Myanmar Comments (2)

The Road to Mandalay.

Myanmar

sunny

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Overlooking the Irrawaddy River.

Getting to Mandalay

Leaving Yangon Airport for Mandalay was a bit of a nightmare. First we handed over our passports and tickets to an important looking guy, complete with badge, at the main door of the airport. I expected him to check them then let us in. Oh no, not a bit of it! Instead he queue jumped us, then demanded to be paid for it. He did not work for the airport at all. Knowing we had been suckered, we just paid up quietly without making a scene. Then in the departure lounge a young man approached us. His English was terrible. At first all we could understand was inside and outside. Eventually we worked out that his job was to take passengers' bags from inside the airport to outside onto the plane. He wanted money off us for this or he was threatening to leave our bags behind. We were so disgusted we refused to pay. All the way on the plane we thought of the things we would have to buy to replace essential pieces of luggage, but it was the principal of the thing. You can't just let everyone everywhere rip you off. On arrival in Mandalay to our surprise the bags were there waiting for us, so it had all been an idle threat.

We flew to Mandalay from Yangon. Our flight went via Bagan. As we were sitting on the plane minding our own business, discussing our luggage problems, before take ­off, there was a sudden commotion. People rushing around madly. Then some very important looking people and some guards got on. We had no idea what was going on. Being nosy I stopped a passing attendant and asked who that important looking woman that had just passed by was. He told me she was the queen of Bhutan! She and her family flew to Bagan.

Arrival in Mandalay

Mandalay Airport is modern, high tech and new but it is in the middle of nowhere. We bargained for a minibus ride to Mandalay. We got on board with lots of other people. Some Thai people on board got angry because they said they had bargained for the price of four people. Since more people were on, it should be cheaper they said. A huge argument ensued culminating in our driver losing it, driving like a madman, screaming, shouting, banging the steering wheel. We were in the middle of nowhere, it was pitch black, we were being driven by a maniac, everyone was petrified and absolutely silent. The atmosphere was so tense. It came as a great relief some time later when we reached Mandalay and realised we were being taken where we wanted to go rather than taken off and killed somewhere.

Mandalay

Prior to going to Mandalay a friend who had visited Burma told us just to go to Yangon and Bagan. She said Mandalay was just a hot, boring, dusty city. I am glad I did not listen to her because of the three places in Burma we visited, Mandalay was my favourite. I loved the street life and the different types of transport. I loved the colourful, chaotic market. It was the second most photogenic market I have ever been to. The most photogenic was Suva, Fiji and I lost all my photos of that. I also loved going to a view point overlooking the river and watching all the activity below. Mandalay was truly fascinating.

In Mandalay we stayed in a great hotel and guess what? Just as we were leaving the Queen of Buhtan turned up there, too. The funny thing about our hotel was it had a wonderful swimming pool but on our last day they closed it to prepare for a special dinner around it. We went to the manager and complained. He said he was really sorry but he could not let anyone use it. When the Queen of Buhtan arrived one of her sons asked the manager about the pool and was told: 'Sorry, it is shut. I can't let you use it.' We felt a bit less angry then knowing we had been treated just the same as the Buhtani royal family.

Our hotel was near the foot of Mandalay Hill so we began our sightseeing by climbing up this 240 metre high hill. A small Burmese girl attached herself to us, and though we did not want a guide, she was actually so cute we did not have the heart to get rid of her. The climb up involved lots of stairs. It was hot and tiring, but there were lots of shrines and stalls to look at on route. The top of the hill should have provided great views but it was very hazy when we got there. Oh well, never mind.

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Mandalay Hill.

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View from the top of Mandalay Hill.

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Mandalay Hill.

We also visited the Glass Palace. I really wanted to visit this huge complex in the centre of Mandalay because I had just finished reading a book called 'The Glass Palace' by Amitav Ghosh. The book begins with British soldiers storming, looting and burning this palace, forcing the Burmese King and Queen into exile in India. The palace was built between 1857 and 1859 by King Mindon. It is located on an island surrounded by a moat. There are 5 bridges to it. Nowadays much of this area is private and tourists can only go to the palace itself.

The palace was first home to King Mindon, then later King Thibaw, the last two kings of Burma. The palace stopped being a royal residence and seat of government on the 28th of November 1885 when British troops entered it and captured the royal family. The British sent the royals into exile and turned the palace into Fort Dufferin. The palace was bombed heavily in World War 11. The complex was rebuilt in the 1990s and I must say does look disappointingly new.

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Mandalay's Glass Palace.

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Hubbie at the Glass Palace.

After the Glass Palace we visited the Central Zeiygo Market. We took local transport to this market. We had agreed on a price in advance. Of course, when we arrived the driver insisted he had meant that was the price each. We did not give him it. You can get sick of being constantly ripped off. The market mainly sold fruit and veg. It was very photogenic.Traffic, bicycles and delivery men travelled between stalls. Stall holders in traditional Burmese clothes, wearing traditional thannaka on their faces, as protection against the sun, sat on the roads. Everywhere was crowded, chaotic and colourful.

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Friendly locals, Mandalay.

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Central Zeiygo Market.

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Central Zeiygo Market.

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Central Zeiygo Market.

Our map showed two viewing points over the Irrawaddy River. We visited one of these on a Burmese style taxi. There was a little cafe at the top. On the river there were huts, wooden platforms, boats, horses and endless bustling activity. It was fascinating and great for photos.

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Overlooking the Irrawaddy River.

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Overlooking the Irrawaddy River.

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Overlooking the Irrawaddy River.

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Overlooking the Irrawaddy River.

Mandalay also had lots of interesting local transport. Plus just wandering around watching people get on with their everyday life there was fascinating. This is a city that lends itself to an aimless wander.

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Street scene, Mandalay.

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Street scene, Mandalay.

Posted by irenevt 00:01 Archived in Myanmar Comments (2)

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