Monthly Archives: January 2020

Cambodia – Siem Reap

Back to Cambodia but this time on land rather than via cruise and visiting Siem Reap – land of temples and smiling people.

Before we started on the temples we took a leisurely boat trip to watch the sunset at the floating village of Tonle Sap. The waters are starting to get lower now which means you see a lot more land than usual. This lake is massive (250 km long). I think some of these homes would be described as “fixer uppers” by most of us but everyone here seems to be happy in spite of their lack of material possessions.

Tonle Sap Lake at sunset

Catch the sun, eat the sun!

Siem Reap is all about the temples and the big Daddy of the all is of course Angkor Wat. Our visit to Siem Reap co-incided with Chinese New Year and so there were a lot of visitors but we were told that tourism is nevertheless down 40% on last year – which is a real problem for the locals who really need those tourist dollars. I think there may be a lot of misconceptions about Cambodia but I think it is a wonderful place with gentle caring people who are trying to make the best of the future after a traumatic past. I can also vouch for the Khmer food – yum.

There are many temples to visit and it is a good idea to cap it at two per day so you can enjoy them properly and not get “templed out”. Most of them are very close to one another and also close to where all the main hotels are based. They are particularly interesting as they are a mash up of Hindu and Buddhist religions due to the period they were built being a time of Hindu or Buddhist prominence depending on which King was in charge!

Dawn at Angkor Wat – you just have to do it and get past the 5am start. Worth it.

Interiors at Angkor Wat – which is the largest religious site in the world – incredible detail everywhere.

On my last visit about 20 years ago Angkor Thom (or Baiyun) was my favourite temple and I think it still is. The 49 giant Buddha faces are extraordinary and seem so peaceful. Also the detail of the bas reliefs which cover many walls tell you so much about the way people lived back in the 1100 and 1200s – how they dressed, the animals used and eaten, the flora and fauna etc. A lot of the faces have different expressions on them too.

Angkor Thom or Baiyun temple

We then had a non temple day in town – which involved tuk tuk rides and shopping. A great place to visit is the Artisans of Angkor workshops – started about 30 years ago as a means of teaching local Cambodians traditional crafts which were dying out due to the fallout from the Pol Pot regime when these kinds of capabilities were not valued at all. Initially they had to search both inside and outside of Cambodia to find people who were still alive and knew how to do things like wooden carving, silk weaving, silver making, soapstone carving, etc. Many had to be persuaded to come back to help teach young people these skills. But now this company employs many people, is self sufficient (in fact will not accept donations as they want to be able to show the local people that they make things that visitors want to buy and pay money for and so can turn a profit) and they provide paid vacation and maternity leave pay and childcare facilities – very unique in Cambodia. Apparently Angelina Jolie is always trying to give donations to them but they refuse even her – she can shop there though and that is what we did too -so hopefully we have done our bit to help some Cambodians.

Chris tries to pretend she likes being on a tuk tuk and the view behind as we head to Artisans of Angkor

Inside of Artisans of Angkor – the workshops and the showroom of finished items

On our second day of temple hopping we visited Banteay Srei – also known as the Temple of Women for no good reason other than they think the name of the place sounded like the word for Woman! I like to think of it as the Pink temple and it is compact and charming and like Angkor Wat surrounded by a moat. It is 35 km outside of the main area of Siem Reap temples but well worth a trip in my opinion.

The picturesque Banteay Srei Temple

Doors and corridors at Banteay Srei Temple

Symbols and stories are etched everywhere at Banteay Srei Temple

Outside the temple there was everything from a set of musicians raising money for people impacted by land mines, to market traders to a friendly driver whisking past.

Near Banteay Srei Temple

A quick stop at a Hindu temple which has not been restored as well as some but remains majestic

Hindu temple between other temples!

Our final temple was Ta Prohm (or the Tomb Raider temple as it is rather annoyingly known as – ref this is where Angelina Jolie played Lara Croft and also adopted a child). Anyway, ignoring the hype – this is a magical place where the trees have taken over parts of the temple creating a captivating symbiosis (yes a bit pretentious here but a fair description nevertheless). Alternatively the ultimate kids adventure playground maybe?

The trees are taking over at Ta Prohm – but it all seems to work well anyway

Ta Prohm Temple

We also paid a visit to the National Museum which I highly recommend to do either before visiting the Wats so you know what to expect or at the end of your trip – as we did – which gave us a better understanding of what we had seen. Unfortunately no photos but the room with 1000 buddhas is worth the visit alone.

Sad to leave lovely Cambodia.

Singapore – Friends and Flowers

Back to Singapore again after the end of our cruise – I know it quite well but always great to see new things and catch up with friends as well.

We visited the Botanical Gardens and I think I was last there in the 80s. It’s so wonderful – an oasis in the centre of a busy city. We spent three hours there wandering from one end to the other. And it’s free with only a small payment to visit the orchid garden.

Orchids at the Botanical Gardens

More stunning orchids

Even the leaves are beautiful here

The bigger picture as you walk around the Botanical Gardens

Singapore reinvents itself every year -I never get bored of the skyline and like finding new spots for taking photos.

Singapore in black and white around Marina Bay

More enjoyment of plants and flowers at the Gardens by the Bay – never get bored of these – although we couldn’t do the skywalk due to maintenance which was a shame. Next time.

Inside at the domes at the Gardens by the Bay

And always good to catch up with friends like Tareq and June – and to watch Chris getting her daily sugar rush after a massive Sunday brunch.

Little India, friends and another lunar new year rat!

Chris, Luisa, June and I enjoying a Steamboat dinner.

Happy Lunar New Year of the Rat!

ASIA Cruise – Part 2 – Sihanoukville, Pattaya and Kho Kood Island.

After visiting various stops in Vietnam next was Sihanoukville in Cambodia – a port in transition but as usual visiting the people in the market and at their homes was fantastic – such a gentle kind nation who have suffered so much.

In the colourful Cambodian local market

Daily life in Sihanoukville – a schoolgirl buys her lunch while on her bike.

Peaceful thoughtful people

Of course in Cambodia you have to visit a temple wherever you are (and I will be at the big one in a few days when I head to Siem Reap) but in the meantime this was the first temple (Wat Lau) we saw at this location.

Monks at the temple

Many many versions of Buddha

Pattaya in Thailand was next – never been a favourite of mine but I did enjoy the big focus on the forthcoming Year of the Rat – as this is my Chinese zodiac sign so always interesting to see how the Tat is portrayed in various parts of Asia – more to come no doubt.

Looking forward to the year of the Rat

A visit to the man made floating market was fun too

I finally got to enjoy a caviar in the surf event on Seabourn – usually I tend to be on cruises away from beaches so have only seen the pool version. In this one we are all able to disembark to a tropical island – in this case Kho Kood – and enjoy the ocean, massages, a seafood bbq and caviar served in the surf. Fun.

Kho Kood island for caviar and champagne in the surf

In Pattaya we also visited the Sanctuary of Truth – a kind of Thai version of segrada familia inasmuch as it is still being finished thirty years after it was started by a local business man who wanted to celebrate the importance of life on earth regardless of your religion. It is quite the feat of engineering as it is also only made out of wood and has no nails at all – so we had to wear hard hats inside but I think it will last a long time!

Exterior of the Sanctuary of Truth

Interiors of the Sanctuary of Truth

Now the night before disembarkation and Chris, Luisa and I say goodbye to the lovely crew.

Until next time….. but now on to Singapore for a few days.

ASIA Cruise – part 1 Hong Kong and Vietnam

Excited to be back in Hong Kong after a couple of years and arrived early on New Year’s Day – just in time for a demonstration – which had a large turnout but was mostly peaceful until the end when the two lions – Stephen and Stitt – outside the HSBC Asia HQ were plastered with red paint:( They have now been covered up with hoarding to be be restored – only one of two times they have been covered or moved – it happened when the Japanese invaded HK during the WW2!)

Demonstrators Hong Kong New Year’s Day 2020

HSBC lion plastered with red paint 😦

Still I do understand why these demonstrations are happening and I’m pretty sure they won’t stop so I do hope that the Chinese government come forward with some solutions or this could turn ugly. Certainly tourism has been impacted severely – hotel prices down, malls empty and generally less people about. Even the NYE celebrations were tempered with no fireworks at the end of the decade.

In spite of all that’s going on the famous HK lights at night are hard to beat and still gave me a thrill.

Hong Kong skyline at night

We also visited the Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden in Kowloon for the first time. An oasis of peace in this very busy city tucked in among high rise apartments. It was a lovely spot to meander for a couple of hours. And check out that blue sky!

Chi Lin Nunnery Hong Kong

Nan Lian Gardens Hong Kong

I met up with my cruise buddies Luisa and Chris in Hong Kong as our next stop is two weeks on Seabourn Ovation.

Chris, Luisa and I enjoying the sights of Hong Kong, Peking duck and cocktails at Sevva

First stop on the cruise was Halong Bay in Northern Vietnam – a palace I haven’t been to in twenty years. I understand some parts are now very crowded with tourists but our visit took us to some quiet areas and a local village that is working to create and eco tourism culture. Plastic water bottles are no longer allowed on the Bay – that is a huge step in the right direction. This place is as lovely as I remember it:)

Beautiful Halong Bay

Halong Bay even lovelier in black and white

I skipped the stop at Danang (as I will be back there next month) and had the ship just about to myself which was rather nice.

And then on to Saigon – first visit for about four years and a city I thought I was very familiar with but an evening walk made it clear that the amount of construction that had taken place in the intervening years meant that much had changed and got a lot swankier than I remember!

But the roof top bar at the historic Rex Hotel where the foreign correspondents used to gather to watch the war (they often call it the American War over here) is still going strong and a very pleasant way to enjoy a few cocktails with great views of the city centre.

Night time views from the Rex Hotel rooftop bar in Saigon

During the day we took a two hour drive to the Mekong and then cruised down it for a few hours stopping off along the way. Nice way to spend a hot day but sad to see how much trash is chucked into the Mekong – they urgently need to take the Halong Bay approach to cleaning it up if they want to keep the tourism dollars coming in.

Rolling along the Mekong – I think the second place is a “fixer upper”!

Back in Saigon we had a foodie day visiting the medicine museum first to find out about traditional Vietnamese medicine and then to some of the local street market stalls. Colourful as ever.

The Medicine Museum Saigon

Street food Saigon style