Tuesday 24 to Friday 27 November
Although we are cycling along the Mekong for our expedition we both felt, rather like the French Mekong Exploration Commission of 1866 -68, that we couldn’t come to Cambodia and not see the Angkor temples. Luckily for us this week was national Water Festival a three day holiday which culminates in boat races between all the provinces in Phnom Penh. These had been cancelled this year in the capital due to past crowd management problems. However, it was still running in Siem Reap – perfect we could combine festival, temples and conservation projects! So as everyone further up river was on holiday and not available for us to visit we decided to head for Siem Reap. We organised to meet up with Michael Meyerhoff at the Angkor Centre for Consrvation of Biodiversity (ACCB) on Tuesday – the only day he was available. We also hoped to link up with WCS and their project in the Prek Toal wetlands.
Well we acheived two of our aims – visiting ACCB and seeing the Angkor temples. Due to faulty information we missed seeing the actual boats racing and sadly because of the festival we were unable to visit any of the WCS projects. However we found a lovely butterfly centre to visit instead.
We caught the night bus up on Monday, with our bikes, arriving 5am Tuesday morning. We then cycled 50km north to Kbal Spean in Phnom Kulen National Park and had a great tour of ACCB’s facilities with Mike – see seperate web page for full report. On Mike’s suggestion we took the chance to walk up to a waterfall and see ancient engravings of Buddha in the rocks of the stream bed. Very beautiful and different with the water flowing all around.
We managed to catch a lift back to town, freshened up, met up with Lucy’s brother Nathan, who’d just arrived for his two month trip round the region, and headed out to see what evening entertainment was going on for the boat festival. A huge market had been set up and food stalls lined all the streets selling meat buns, pancakes, insects, fruit, smoothies, drinks and more substantial meals. The place was packed, everyone dressed up in their best clothes having come in from the surrounding areas to make the most of the festive mood. We wandered around before grabbing some food and heading back exhausted after a long day.
The next day we cycled 30km out to visit the Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre we’d cycled past the day before when on the way to see Mike. He’d also recommended a visit. Again full report on a seperate web page. Temple viewing occupied the rest of the day culminating at Angkor Wat to watch the sunset and the full moon rise behind one of the temple. Being national holiday the grounds were packed with families out to enjoy themselves and created a lovely atmosphere.
Wednesday and we were back in the grounds of Angkor Wat at 530, monosyllabic and very sleepy, to see sunrise before cycling round the huge park to finish off our temple viewing. Nathan and I, flagging by 7am, both felt breakfast would be the ideal pick me up. So we sat under the trees looking out over Angkor Wat eating huge thick pancakes, chunks of fruit and omlettes washed down with ice coffee. All served from little cafes with fantastic names – Harry Potter cafe, Mr Rambo, Lisence to Coffee, Lady Gaga and Number One Honey.
We’d left the afternoon free to watch the boat race finals. These, we found out when we turned up in town at 2, had taken place the day before! Doh! So we explored town, had a massage and unsuprisingly an early night… Today we’re back on the bus to Phnom Penh staying with Bethy our warm showers host for two nights while we get our ducks in a row and ready to continue up the Mekong to Kampongcham, Kratie and Stung Treng where we will be visiting turtle, dolphin and community projects – and, to make Lucy’s year, maybe even see a Mekong wagtail!
I’m going to leave you with a selection of photos from the Angkor complex, rediscovered in 1860 by French naturalist Henri Mouhot, as words will fail to do it justice. Suffice to say the park is enormous, over 100 temples set in 160 sq. km. You can cycle (or go by bus, car and tuk tuk) round it visiting the various temple remains built by a succession of kings, from the 8th through to the 14th century, all within forested parkland of towering trees. Some temples nestle amoung the trees, vines and undergrowth others have been lovingly reconstructed. It’s mind boggling the scale, beauty and fact each temple meant that a city of thousands also existed in that spot. Their houses being made of wood have long since disappeared. Hope you like the photos.
X Tash and Lucy