A Travellerspoint blog

Wat Hanchey - Kampong Cham - Monday, 6 February 2017

Scenic Freechoice - Explore Kampong Cham town - Farewell reception and dinner

sunny 35 °C

We sailed all night and woke up this morning, tied up to a tree on a remote river bank. Memories of the Irrawaddy! The climb up the river bank looked ominous but as usual, there were Scenic staff all along the route to help us. Because we had 300 steps to walk up steps to a monastery on top of the hill, most of us decided to take our walking poles, which I discovered at Mount Popa, help immensely.

So after breakfast, we scrambled up the river bank (in the wet, the boat is level with the road), crossed the road, passed an old Chinese cemetery, and then commenced the climb to the top of the hill at Wat Hanchey to meet the novice monks.

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It was a gradual climb and before we knew it, we were at the top. Easy peasy!!

It is school holidays at the moment, so a lot of the monks were on holidays, back visiting their families and villages.

Mao interviewed this little boy, who, by the way, was 13 years old. He had been in the monastery for two years.

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Most Cambodians start puberty at about 15, as opposed to Western children, who start at 12 or 13.

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Mao asked him if he wanted to stay in the monastery and he wasn't sure, but Mao told him to stay long enough to receive a good education. These monasteries educate the boys and the girls go to Government schools. During the Pol Pot regime, there were no monasteries, in fact, if Pol Pot knew the monks were educators, they were killed.

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A couple of school teachers in our group are quite concerned that the children don't play and that their life is just full of discipline and rules. However, our Western children are over indulged to the point that they don't appreciate anything.

The monks were setting out the food for lunch. After midday, they are not allowed to eat any solid food until 6 am the next morning.

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There was a lovely view of the Mekong from the top of the hill.

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Then we started the descent. Quite steep, but to protect the knees, it is best to walk down sideways.

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There was supposed to be a lovely breeze on top of the hill, but there wasn't, but it was okay.

Now sailing for Kampong Cham - last day on board. Feeling sad.

Kampong Cham was an important French trading post during the colonial era. Crumbling French colonial buildings and classic Chinese shop houses can still be seen in the downtown area.

The big bridge, Spean Kizuna, was the first to span the Mekong's width in Cambodia and the first to joinn the east and west of Cambodia by road. It was a joint Cambodian-Japanese project completed in 2001.

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Kampong Cham gets its name from its large population of ethinc Cham, Muslims who may have originated in Borneo before fanning out and establishing populations in Cambodia and Vietnam. At the height of the Khmer Empire in 1177, the Cham briefly won control of its territories, before Khmer King Jayavarman VII defeated them in an epic battle on land and water, scenes of which can be found of the walls of the Bayon temple in Siem Reap.

The old red tower on the west side of the bridge is thought to be a customs tower built during the French colonial ear and a watchtower to monitor boat traffic on the river and to protect the rubber plantations nearby.

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I went on a walking tour of Kampong Cham town this afternoon. We walked through the streets and then visited the local market. The streets are wide and clean and there is not much traffic so it was quite easy to cross the road without taking our lives into our hands.

We were quite the attraction in the local market as not many tourists visit this town, let alone the local market. It sold EVERYTHING and the meat and fish were very smelly in this hot weather.

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Our guide bought us a lady finger banana. It was quite different from those in Australia, small but with a very thin skin and very, very sweet.

We saw some old colonial buildings and then visited the old home of the king.

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The last call on our tour was the old bamboo bridge. What an amazing piece of architecture this is. We were lucky to see it because the government is pulling it down soon to build a modern bridge. The lady who owns this bridge pays $30,000 USD every two years for the lease on the bridge. It is a toll bridge and has been asked how much money she makes but she won't say, but obviously she makes quite a lot if she can afford $30,000 USD every two years.

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Back on board, we attended at traditional Khmer music and dance performance by a local NGO/charity called Organization for Basic Training. The kids played instruments and sang and danced and then we all got up and tried to dance with them. Very funny.

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We invited David and Margaret from Melbourne and Alison and Russell from Sydney to have pre dinner drinks with us on our deck and then we all went to dinner together. It was a very nice group.

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After dinner, all the staff were introduced to the the diners. It was our chance to show our appreciation for their devotion to us over the past week.

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Now off to our cabin to pack ready for our departure to Siem Reap tomorrow.

Posted by gaddingabout 07:32 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Oudong - Kampong Tralach - Ko Chen - Sunday, 5 February 2017

Cruise from Phnom Penh to Prek K'dam and visit the ancient capital of Oudong to visit the mountain stupas, pagoda and monastery

sunny 34 °C

We are tied up at a river bank and as we woke up, we saw our transport for the morning, grazing on the river bank - oxen.

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Phil actually graced us with his presence this morning but he didn't want to ride in the ox cart, so he went in a tuk tuk. So did Ingrid and Elfie as Ingrid's back wouldn't have done too well in an ox cart.

Mao took me to the front of the queue so I would avoid the dust - very thoughtful guide.

The ox cart ride took about 30 minutes, mostly on a sealed road and it wasn't too bad at all. As we arrived at the buses, the children ran out with gifts for us that they had made from the reeds. i received this thing (not sure what it is) and Phil received a ring. Very clever. We have been told not to give them money or gifts, because if they think they can make a living from the tourists, then they won't go to school, but to speak to them in English, so they can practise.

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On the bus for the ride to Oudong Temple. Oudong was the royal residence and Cambodia's capital for more than 250 years until 1866.

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Cambodia is largtely a Buddhist country, practised by around 95% of the population. The religion is based around more than 4,000 monastery temples in the country. They are known as Pagodas or Wats and are administered by the monks.

Part of our visit today was a blessing by the monks. We had to take our shoes off and sit on the floor. Mao asked them some questions about their lives in the monastery and how old they were (74 and 23) and how long they are been there. The old one will be here for the rest of his life and the young one will probably leave in a couple of years to get married.

We all sat on the hard floor, many of us wondering how on earth we were going to be able to stand up again! After Mao had asked all the questions, the monks started the blessing chant, which went for about 10 minutes, then they started throwing lotus petals and flower buds at us. The language of the chant was Pali, which is related to Sanskrit.

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Then Mao showed us how the monks tie their robes. We then had photos taken with the monks and with Mao. In the case of Mao, we were allowed to touch him, because he is a "fake monk" these days. Women aren't allowed to touch the monks and Herman took my photo with the real monks, but I had to ask him to help me stand up again, as I couldn't lean on the monks. The joys of ageing!!

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Mao was once in the monastery as a young man, but now he is married with children. He told us that when he reaches the end of his life, he and his wife will both move into a monastery and live separately. It's a bit like our Retirement Villages in Australia, however, these are free and you give up everything to enter them but your family can still come and visit. Seems like a good idea.

After our blessing, we went outside again, into the heat. It is really hot and we were glad to have umbrellas from the bus for shade. I hate wearing hats as I think they make you hotter.

We poked our heads into the huge room where the monks and nuns were having lunch. Smelt pretty good. Then we wandered down to the nuns' living quarters and then back to the bus and back to the ship in time for lunch. At 1 pm, we set sail for Phnom Penh.

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Phil and I went for another massage mid afternoon. This was my third and it was an aromatherapy one. We had $300 on board credit this cruise and spent $260 of it on massages. Lovely! There was nothing else we wanted to spend it on anyway.

We went up to the sun deck for a disembarkation briefing and port talk by Paula and then were entertained by Pavel, a singer/guitarist. After a while, the selfconsciousness wore off and some of us got up to dance, with Paula and the guides. It was great fun and there was a cool breeze blowing too.

After dinner, we participated in the Scenic Spirit Trivia Night. We had about 16 in our team (Poms, Aussies, Americans and Canadians) all bases covered you would think. However, with so many in the team, there were a lot of conflicting answers and disagreements, but in the end, we tied for first place, which made the Captain of our Team, Peter the Pom, quite happy. We won a bottle of Mekong Liquour to share but I went to bed and didn't get to try it.

In hindsight, we would have been better forming our own Aussie team, because we have some pretty smart Aussies on board.

Posted by gaddingabout 06:53 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Phnom Penh - Saturday, 4 February 2017

Royal Palace and National Museum

sunny 38 °C

Slightly later morning today and we left the ship at 9am to visit the Royal Palace. We have to have our knees and shoulders covered for this visit and it is quite hot and humid.

The Royal Palace is lovely - just like the palace in Bangkok. There is quite a Thai influence in the buildings here.

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The National Museum is a magnificent red coloured building. It is my sort of museum, not one with glass cases of minute things, but instead, a collection of statutes from different periods during Cambodian history. Very interesting, but again, no photos allowed.

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Back on board, we sailed for Koh Chen and after lunch I attended a demonstration of the Krama (Khmer Scarf) which we were given last night as a turn down present. We also received one while we were at Raffles.

In the afternoon, I went ashore for a walking tour around Koh Chen, the silversmith village. When we opened our balcony door, all we could hear coming from the village was tap, tap, tap - the people working on the silver.

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It is really hot and humid and there is no breeze blowing. It is quite a nice village and reasonably clean.

Some of the faces of Koh Chen.

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There is also a monastery here.

This gentlemen is 83 years old, which is amazing because most Cambodians only live till their mid sixties. He was a professor and survived the Pol Pot regime by saying he was a porter, not a teacher, because they killed all them. Luckily, he had used a lot of weights as a young man and had calloused hands which made them believe his story that he was a porter.

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After the regime ended, he returned to his village and immediately started teaching and made sure his children were well educated. In turn, after becoming successful adults, they built him a beautiful house in the village, with electricity, air conditioning and a fridge. He wrote a mathematical equation on the board and he all just looked blank and he worked it out. Phil didn't come on the walk through the village, but he would have been able to work it out for sure.

Peter and Yvonne from Sydney and Elfi and Ingrid came to our room for pre dinner drinks and we had a lovely time on the balcony, chatting, drinking champagne and watching the most glorious sunset.

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Posted by gaddingabout 06:26 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Tan Chau - Phnom Penh - Friday, 3 February 2017

Sailing into Cambodia

sunny 33 °C

Today our Scenic Free Choice was to visit the Killing Fields at Choeung Ek which is the most well known of over 300 killing fields throughout Cambodia. The bus took almost an hour to get there as the traffic in Phnom Penh was diabolical. Our guide told us the story of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in very frank terms and Paula, the Cruise Director on the ship gave us a very comprehensive overview too a couple of days ago. Even though we lived through that time, it didn't really have much of an impact on us at the time, but visiting the actual site today, certainly changed all that.

As we entered the complex, our guide pointed out a man sitting at a desk and told us he was the one who, as a young boy of 16 found this killing field after Pol Pot had fled the country. He and his family had returned to their family home which was next door to an old unused Chinese cemetery and while he was walking through the fields, he came across two open pits of hundreds and hundreds of rotting bodies. He told his family and they told him to be quiet and not say anything to anyone, but after a couple of weeks, officials arrived at their home and the young man took them into the fields to show them what he had found. Excavation commenced and the horror of the Pol Pot regime was unearthed, time and time again. Two million Cambodians were to lose their lives by the hand of this crazy dictator murderer, Pol Pot. And in the cruellest of ways. This razor edged piece of plant was used to slowly saw through people's throats.

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The murderer!

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We saw the Truck Stop where the prisoners were offloaded.

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The Detention Centre.

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The Executioners' Working Office.

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The Chemical Substances Storage Room.

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The Killing Tools Storage Room.

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The Killing Tree where they beat children to death on this tree.

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And the memorial. Nine stories of skulls and bones. We lit an incense stick, placed it in the bowl and went into the memorial.

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Whevever the wet season comes, more bones and clothes are unearthed. There are pits everywhere which were mass graves. It was the most distressing place to visit. Why did the world let this happen? And why is it still happening?

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We then were taken to the high school that Pol Pot turned into a prison and torture place. No photos were allowed inside. I'm not sure why but it was pretty dreadful. Outside there were two men who had survived the period. Also these four children were the only children found alive in the prison when Pol Pot fled the country.

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We came back to the Scenic Spirit for lunch. The other groups were having lunch off the ship.

I went for my second massage - a Vietnamese one and it was lovely.

At 4.00 pm we hopped into a tuk tuk for our ride to Raffles Le Royal Hotel for a High Tea. The tuk tuks are motorised and it was lovely whizzing along the streets, with our driver pointing out some of the sights of Phomn Penh. We arrived at Raffles and were given a guided tour by one of the staff. It is a lovely old hotel and for some reason, Pol Pot didn't lay a hand on it.

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Then we went in for our High Tea and our Femme Fatale cocktail which was named in honour of Jackie Kennedy's visit to Cambodia in 1967. She left her lipstick mark on a glass and it is displayed in a glass cabinet. The chef at Raffles is from Perth and has been here two years and in Cambodia for four. We had lots of yummy things and the scones were delicious. Back to the ship by tuk tuk at 6 pm, port talk by Paula and then into dinner. Good grief! as if any of us could eat another thing! But we did!

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After dinner we went up to the lounge to listen to a singer/guitarist Scoddy. He was originally from Hobart and came to Cambodia eight years ago to oversee the transcripts of the war crimes trials. He sang Bob Dylan songs and was quite good.

Another late night!

Posted by gaddingabout 08:17 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Tan Chau - Thursday, 2 February 2017

Overnight cruise to Tan Chau. Scenic Freechoice - Tra Su Forest

storm 32 °C

Up at 6 am, breakfast at 6.45 am and on the bus at 8 am for the visit to Tra Su Forest Bird Sanctuary. Phil has decided to be lazy and stay at home. About 12 of us went on this excursion and the getting there was a huge part of actually visiting the bird sanctuary.

First we had a speed boat ride for 45 minutes to Chau Doc where we disembarked at the Victoria Hotel Wharf for a Happy Room visit. Then we boarded a bus for another 45 minute ride. I thought I might snooze on this leg, but no, the surrounding scenery was too lovely to miss. We were driving through the food bowl of the Mekong Delta with just miles and miles of beautiful green rice paddy fields. Also, there was a lot of traffic and it is still Tet New Year and lots of people are on the move, so the traffic was interesting, to say the least. Our bus seemed to be driving on the wrong side of the road for most of the trip, passing all the motor bikes, but with cars and trucks coming straight for us. How we avoided a collision, I'll never know.

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We got off the bus and walked about 800 metres through a village to our next mode of transport - a motorised sampan. This little girl kept saying hello and I would say Sin Jao and she would say hello.

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Then we boarded a sampan for a reasonably short ride to the place where we boarded, two to each boat, a canoe with a rower and off we went through the forest to see the birds. It was just beautiiful. It was like a combination of Kakadu in Australia, the Everglades in America and the Amazon in South America. We saw and heard lots and lots of birds as it is still the nesting period time, but many were flying and hard to identify. We did see a magnificent blue Kingfisher.

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Then in no time, we reversed the journey and returned to the Scenic Spirit in time for lunch.

After lunch we set sail for the Cambodia border and when we arrived, we dropped anchor and waited. The Cambodian authorities came on board and took our passports ashore to check them, stamp them, and issue us with Cambodian visas. Meanwhile Paula delivered a very good presentation on Cambodia.

Phil was asleep so I had a jacuzzi on the balcony and started to read a book that Peter, our next door neighbour gave me "The Silk Merchant's Daughter" which is written by the same author who wrote "The Tea Planter's Daughter", which I have read and enjoyed.

Back up to the Sun Deck to see a traditional Vietnamese Lion Dance performed by some local boys - to say goodbye Vietnam and hello Cambodia. Then a port talk by Paula and down to the cabin to dress for our Gala Dinner.

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We sat with Peter and Angela from the UK, David and Margaret from Melbourne, Michelle and David from Brisbane and Elfie and Ingrid. We had a very delicious meal and lots of fun, laughter and stimulating discussion.

We set sail for Phnom Penh at about 7.30 pm and will be docked by the time we wake up.

Posted by gaddingabout 22:48 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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