Archives for the month of: April, 2015

A word about Kashmir – we found it extemely safe. We stayed on Butts Clermont houseboats located on the very quiet upper Lake Dal where they were the only houseboats after the village of Hazratbal. We walked into the village a few times and felt completely safe.
The driver we used and recommended by the Butts was well informed and if there were any troublespots he knew where and when to stay away from them but we saw no violence or agresssion by the Indian army. There were many soldiers standing around in the city and all throught the countryside. The Kashmiris feel that they would be better off without the army there and are very proud to be Kashmiri. They treat other Indians almost as coming from another country.
We ventured into the city on a couple of occasions and only encountered very friendly and helpbul Kashmiris. There were a couple of checkposts going up to the Mughal garden high on a hill and towards Sonamarg but on both occasions we didn’t have to show any paperwork and were waived through immediately. The militancy from 1990 to 2006 deterred all tourists bar some journalists and Kashmir has not recovered from the conflict with many media reports exaggerating the danger to visitors.
The whole time we were in Kashmir we only saw another western looking couple in the Shalimar gardens and a small group in in the carpet factory. The locals are really hoping for a return of foreign tourists as the tourist season is only six months of the year and constitutes their livelyhood and they otherwise struggle to make a living. There are no factories or manufacturing in Kashmir other than their textile industry. As in other parts of the world local cottage crafts are also slowly disappearing as a lot of young people do not want the labour intensive work or to work on the land or on the water. This coupled with the worst floods last September that had experienced in their lifetime had made for a disastrous time for the locals.

We overnighted in the Eaton hotel located in the domestic terminal 3 of Delhi airport after waiting fruitlessly for our last bag to appear. It had been left behind in Kuala Lumpur and we were told it would be sent to Srinagar the next day. The hotel was super and a five minute walk from the check in counters so very convenient. We flew north to Srinagar and had beautiful views of the snow capped Himalayas before we landed in Srinagar.
The houseboat was a 3/4 of an hour away from the military airport where we landed. The very loud roar of the Sukhoi and Mig jets nearly deafened us in the airport and as we left the airport.
We drove through Srinagar where there were many derelict houses and many newly constructed ones. Many old houses had very interesting wooden architecture. We were told that the heritage laws do not allow for a derelict wooden building be demolished and a modern one erected in it’s place so there are many disintegrating wooden buildings because either people cannot affort to rebuild them or the younger generation want to live out of town in a more modern house.
The flood of September severely damaged a lot of the city and water levels had been up to the second storey of many buildings.
The unusually late rains this year and melting snow had caused the water level to rise by inches every day and this causes major problems for the Butts and their houseboats.

Arriving at Butt’s Clermont houseboats was like coming home. Mr Butt senior and junior and several staff were there to welcome us and Mr Butt even gave me a big hug and showered me with petals. I think he was grateful to have guests again. For many years after the conflict of the nineties and sporadic ongoing incidents they lost most of their business and their number of houseboats had diminished from nine to four. Many celebrities and heads of state stayed on the houseboats and Mr Butt proudly showed us his memorabilia room full of framed prints of former guests from Joan Fontaine to Lord Mountbatten, George Harrison and Michael Palin. We also found number 17 guestbook with glowing reports from guests from all over the world.
Mr Butt explained to us that from 1990 when the conflict was at it’s worst for nearly sixteen years there were no tourists and the Indian army even set up camp in his “Garden of the Breezes” built by former Mughal King Akbar. They suffered greatly under the militants who would come and demand money and threaten them.
The Kashmiris we spoke to cannot understand the actions of the militants and just want to live in peace. Kashmir is part of India, Pakistan want it and a few Kashmiri militants want a separate state and a minority of Kashmiris want to join Pakistan.

The houseboats were originally owned by a British couple (the Fosters) who had them constructed because they could not buy land in India and wanted somewhere to escape the heat of Delhi in Summer. When they left India they left the houseboats and contents to the Butt family who had been textile merchants. They then changed course and ran the houseboats. It is now third generation with father and son working in the business. The houseboat was charming with beautifully carved wooden panelling, Queen Anne tables, writing desks and chairs and heavily embroidered curtains and lounge suite. It was like stepping back in time.

The four houseboats were located on their own in Naseem Bagh on upper Lake Dal alongside the embankment with a spectacular view over the lake to the snow capped mountains behind. This was unlike the other part of Lake Dahl where we passed hundreds of houseboats all jammed together. We had our very efficient and wonderful butler Ramzan who had been working there for 43 years. We just needed to press a button and he would come and see to anything we wanted. He spoke excellent English told us that tourists, especially Indian ones were starting to come back to Srinagar. We were served a two course tasty lunch and kava tea (green tea made with crushed almonds, cardamon and cinammon) then went for a walk to the village about ten minutes away. The stalls there were an interesting array of fruit, vegetables, meats and fruit and breads. Kashmiris eat a lot of meat and Mr Butt was disappointed that we only wanted vegetarian food. We went past the local mosque and went into a small shop selling Kashmiri shawls and hand embroidered bags and coats.
The shop owner “Raja” was a lovely man who was not pushy but showed us all his wares. We didn’t buy anything but that didn’t seem to bother him in the slightest which was very refreshing. We walked back to the houseboat for afternoon tea which was brought on a tray with fine bone china cups and saucers, tea pot and included some pastries.
The evening meal brought from the kitchen on the bank opposite our houseboat consisted of soup followed by rice and paneer, potatoes and capsicums in delicious spicy sauces and chappatis and a creme caramel for dessert.
We did try telling Ramzan that we never ate so much especially at night and didn’t want any dessert and asked if we could just have some soup and chappatis in the evening but the following night we were served just as much food minus the dessert.
Mr Butt did say that he wanted us to just forget watching what we ate and just enjoy the food. It was all delicious but a hearty breakfast, morning tea with pastries, three course lunch, afternoon tea with biscuits, a three course dinner and “Kava” or Kashmiri tea of almonds, cardamon and cinammon many times a day was just too much so they finally acquiesed to our wishes.

The temperature when we arrived was 19degrees, sunny an warm, in sharp contrast to the 35degrees and humidity of Cambodia. It dropped considerably at night so that the staff brought us hot water bottles and put them in the bed.
We could stipulate when we wanted each meal and what time we wanted to bathe. The bath water was heated by a chip heater located just outside the boat so we had to give prior notice to have hot water. The staff were muslim and were up early for morning prayers so the fire was lit early.

We were hoping that Maurice’s bag would be delivered the following day but it was not put on a flight from Kuala Lumpur until the next day and then it would come to Srinagar a day later so we ventured to the local market and bought him some underwear and a set of thermals. The locals wanted to know from where we came and when we said Australia they all mentioned the world cup and what a good cricket team we had. We saw many cricket games being played the day we arrived and it seems the Kashmiris are as enthusiastic about cricket as the rest of India.

It drizzled most of the day so we went to a recommended carpet wholesaler and after being shown a large number of carpets while sipping kava we decided on two woollen carpets featuring a tribal design. The workshop was full of workers hand weaving beautiful silk carpets and the owner was lamenting the fact that it was a dying craft because he could get young people as workers. His team were all older men. We got the driver to drop us back at the market where we went back to Raja and bought a couple of embroidered cloth bags and walked back to the houseboat. Mr Butt had lent us typical Kashmiri robes and me a shawl and a beanie to keep warm which amused the locals at the market to see us wearing them.
At 5pm the local masseur and barber arrived to give Maurice a massage.

There was always something to see on the lake. The fishermen or boatmen and a lot of wildlife. A lovely little bulbul bird came to the window several times a day and a vibrantly coloured kingfisher perched on a pole outside as well as several kites swooping and diving on the lake in front of us as well as ducks and other birds. The atmosphere was one of complete peace and serenity once we were back on the houseboat. There was no TV, radio or phone. The WIFI was by no means reliable so it did make for enforced relaxation and we read, chatted to Mr Butt or the staff or simply stared at the lake.

It rained all that night and into the morning so our driver took us into Lol Chowk to do some shopping. Maurice’s trusty Keene’s boots had finally died so he bought some new ones and gave his old ones to Shakeel the driver who was very pleased with them. We stopped off at the local market and bought a few bits and pieces and then retreated back to the very warm houseboat. Ramzan our butler had rigged up a chip heater in the loungeroom which warmed the room in minutes. The rain continued and into the next night but in the morning the clouds were higher and we saw the sun again so we set off to see the various mosques and the old town. Srinagar has seven bridges crossing the river which is very fast flowing at the moment. The poor people here have had awful flooding in September last year some of which reached to the second storey of some buildings. Then the unseasonal heavy and continued rain caused major drainage problems and flooding in March so they have had a really hard time of it. Even at the houseboat of which there are now four, the staff have been putting in extra stakes to secure the houseboats. The lake is much higher than usual for this time of year and the larger two and three bedroom boats are about a metre and a half higher making it more difficult to get on board.

Shakeel our driver took us to their largest mosque which was unlike any we had seen with square turrets and filled with pine columns which were about 20 metres high. Over 30,000 can fit inside the mosque. We drove to another part of Srinagar town and we parked the car and walked to see other places of worship where in one place there was a mosque with a hindu temple and sikh temple nearby. We were the only non Indians on the whole of our walk and the object of much talk and chatter. Many young and older Kashmiris were interested from where we came and an old man crossing me in the middle of a bridge asked where I was from, what I did for a living,what was my name and was I enjoying Kashmir. The sun stayed out for the rest of the day and we were grateful to be warm again.

We were offered tea in many shops whether we bought anything or not and there was no pushiness on the sellers part. The wifi on the houseboat was not great but there was a good little internet cafe five minutes away.
The pink peach blossom in the park not far from us was absolutely beatiful. The little Bulbul flew into our houseboat when the door was left open and would go straight to the grapes on the table.
Mr Ramzan was a gem, very courteous and friendly and gave us a wealth of information about the lake and the history of the houseboats and the whole region.

There are many very old and large Chinar trees on the property and dotted all around Lake Dal. The leaves look similar to maple leaves and their design is used extensively from wood carving to material and even the shape of flower beds in the Shalimar Garden on the opposite side of the lake to our houseboat. The gardens were built by Shah Jahan who constructed the Taj Mahal and are well laid out and there were a lot of peach trees in blossom and spring flowers everywhere.
There were stepping stones in the water features and Shakeel tested them before I stepped on them but I stepped a bit soon and ran into him and we both nearly ended up in the water. How we didn’t I don’t know but the water was very cold so I was very glad we didn’t. We headed off just as the Indian tourists started arriving.

We left the gardens and went on to the Indira Ghandi Tulip Gardens a little further on. It was 28kilometres to circle around the lake. These gardens were very extensive with water features dotted about and a few gardeners tending the beds. Entrance to the local attractions was only 50rupees or $1.
We then drove a little way up the mountain, through the army checkpoint and Shakeel parked the car so we proceeded for 2-3 kilometres on foot up the road to “Pari Mahal” a terraced arched garden built into the side of a mountain by Shah Jahan’s eldest son in the mid seventeen century. It was a pleasure to go for a long walk after all the sitting and eating.
There was also an army lookout on one corner of the building. The army were dotted all over Srinagar and the surrounding area but all were very friendly even if they looked a bit fierce with their guns slung over their shoulders and many wearing flak jackets. The seem to be near every bridge, mosque and major intersection. The fort high above the town is out of bounds for tourists and locals alike.
We had wonderful views from the garden there across the lake to Srinagar and Hazratbal where the houseboats were mooored.
Butts Clermont houseboats were the only ones on upper Lake Dal so it was very peaceful except for the call to prayers by the sufi mosques in the area where prayers were sang over the loudspeakers for up to 2hours in the mornings. Unlike the other mosques we have heard, the congregation answer singing their prayers which is sometimes pleasant to listen to but not necessarily at 5-6am.

The following day we set off with our driver Shakeel and Mr Ramzan for the two hour drive to Sonamarg, a mountain retreat for winter excursions and Summer vacations for many Indian tourists. The road there had only been open for a week so we were lucky to make the trip there. We passed many new houses or old houses with new shiny corrugated iron rooves.
There were normally pony rides up to the glacier in Sonamarg however because of unseasonal heavy snowfalls the pony rides were replaced by toboggan rides. We instead walked up to near the glacier after the snow plough had cleared a small path and then it was easier walking on the softer snow. It was a beautiful sunny day and not really cold. We both had a bit of a headache and were sleepy because of the high altitude of about 8,500ft. We stopped on the way back near the river to have a picnic which Mr Ramazan had prepared with fried chicken, cheese sandwiches and boiled eggs.

Like most of India there were no road rules and the cars and buses honk their horns incessantly and some of the old auto rickshaws very sturdy buses belched out black smoke.

We decided to use the boatman Lasser with his “Happy Journey” shikara to do a two hour leisurely trip around some of the lake where he gave us a lot of information about the vegetable farmers who grow bullrushes for three years and then when they are firm they can walk on them them and grow vegetables in root blocks from the lakebed. They use the sludge from the lake as fertilizer and therefore grow pesticide free, organic vegetables. Most of the farmers could not plant anything because the floods had caused very high water and most of the gardens were under water. We saw clumps of tall branches tied together and these were used to cultivate marrows. They hope that the lake water recedes enough in May to enable them to replant.
Lasser took us through the wetlands on the lake where where there were a great variety of birds and he had excellent knowledge of each bird species.

There were hundreds of people in Hazratbal for their Friday market and prayer at the mosque holding the most people in Srinagar. The market was set up on the outskirts and in the centre of town so we walked there and spent an hour looking around the market with so much fresh produce. We went back to “Raja” the friendly shop owner who sold me a beautiful sheepskin and fox fur trim coat for the extremely reasonable price of $62 which I will use in Ireland and the UK and in Roccamandolfi if it is still cold when we go to get the van.

We left Srinagar on the 25th April a day before our Indian visas expired. We had an eight hour transit in Delhi before flying to Abu Dhabi to meet up with our friend Tina.

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The countryside on the outskirts of the Capital looked very arid with few trees but with many small fish/prawn farms close to the road. We passed the mighty Mekong River and as we drove further north it looked even more arid with many of the rice fields already harvested and burnt off.

The trip took us about 8 1/2 hours with two half hour stops on the way. When we set off we thought that the road was quite good for the first half hour and then we hit the bone jarring potholes for about a third of the trip. I thought I was lucky as we sat in the second last row with the only window on our side that could be opened so it was good for opening briefly to take pictures but it did not have a good seal so that when we hit the dusty potholes a cloud of red dust would fly in over us. It was also a pity that the driver had not learnt where the gears were and there was much scraping of them when he did attempt it. Otherwise it was a pleasant journey with little variation apart from a few smallish towns on the way and a very large lake. The houses dotted amongst the trees were mostly on stilts with either animals or machinery underneath.The more affluent looking ones had painted bamboo screens on the front of the house and stainless steel or fancy railings on their staircases. Most houses had enormous pots outside their houses filled with water.

It started to sprinkle as we entered Siem Riep but we were whisked away by a tuk tuk driver Mr Shut Soeun who fitted all the luggage and us into the trailer and took to our hotel about ten minutes away for USD3. We walked around the corner and over the river to a lovely training restaurant for under priviledged youth and it was very pleasant sitting under the trees to have our tapas dinner. It was one of four such restaurants in the country run by one organisation. They also had a small shop which sold mainly recycled innovative products.
We chose our hotel because a friend from Perth was also going to stay there but didn’t turn up coming so we decided to move
hotels (walking up three flights of stairs was a bit much) to the Royal Crown which was a much nicer hotel and central to the
markets, river and many restaurants. We decided to employ Mr Shut Soeun to take us around the Angkor Archaelogical park for
the four days that we went out to the various temples of Angkor Wat, Bayon, Banteay Srea, Ta Keo etc.
He suggested that we not go temple sightseeing after we changed hotels as it was a bit later in the day and the three day pass (valid over one week) costs $40 and we wouldn’t get the best value from the pass that day. We instead went to see the
markets and the artisans of Angkor who employ a lot of disadvantaged and handicapped people to make all sorts of goods from
soapstone sculptures, silk items, porcelain to lacquer work and woodcarving. Soeun dropped us later to the Khmer Touch Cuisine restaurant where we had a delicious dinner and walked back to our hotel via “pub street” with it’s many bars and nice restaurants. The streets of Siem Riep were very clean as were the roads out to the Archaeologial Park. The French influence is still noticeable in many of the buildings.
Some of the roads in town including the one in front of our hotel were red earth which were watered to keep the dust down. It made for a lot of cleaning inside for the staff.

We set off the next moring at 6.30am to explore the temples of “Angkor Thom”. We liked Bayon temple very much as well as the
better known Ta Prohm temple where the film Tombraider was shot, not that we had seen it. There were hundreds of stairs to climb at many of the temples we visited with some very steep and narrow ones to boot but we managed them all. There were very good resting huts in the park and many refreshment stands.
We found the temples all quite different and the surrounding very tall and unusual trees made the whole area a fascinating one. The entire park is densely forested in many parts with a lot of shade and red earth roads. There was ongoing reconstruction at a few temples. One was undertaken by the Chinese and another by the Indians. How they reconstructed parts of the temple was to number every stone block which had fallen in a heap. These were then entered into a computer and the computer then made a jigsaw puzzle fitting the blocks together.
There were some long walks to some of the temples and a few small stages were set up with men playing Cambodian instruments. They were mainly amputees (landmines) and they were well supported by the tourists. They organised the tourists very well by having east/west or north/south entrances so not everyone was walking in the same direction and we found no congestion at any of the sights. It was the low season so that may have helped. There seemed to be a lot of Chinese and also Cambodian groups around. They do advise you not to venture off the beaten track as there are still landmines in the countryside.
Soeun was a very good driver and most of the drivers are very polite and there is virtually no blowing of horns or drivers getting impatient. Everyone just seems to wait their turn. The weather was very pleasant about 34degrees and 60percent humidity with a gentle breeze blowing. After we had covered about six temples in about five hours we decided we needed some lunch so Soeun dropped us at a great little cafe that we found called the “Little Red Fox cafe espresso” which served excellent coffee and food.
We walked back to the hotel stopping at a wonderful spa and had an hour’s very professional and luxurious reflexology massage for USD12. Our legs and feet very much appreciated that before we walked the short way back over the river to our hotel. The river runs right through middle of the main town with shops, restaurants,and hotels on both sides of the river with it’s overhanging trees.

When we decided to come to Cambodia we didn’t realize that we would be in Siem Riep for Khmer New Year which is a 3day event starting from the 14th April depending on who you talk to. A lot of workers take the whole week off and we saw many enormous stages being set up for the holiday. They were expecting up to half a million people to hit town, mostly locals who came home for the holiday or wanted to experience New Year in Siem Riep. There were many decorations and colourful lights to mark the occassion along the streets and in front of buildings.

Our driver took sick so the next day he sent us his friend Phanet to drive us to Banteay Srea and various other temples in that area which were over an hour away. We started out at 9am which was a much more civilised hour. We had a good tuk tuk ride there passing many rural houses and even some rice crops and a much greener landscape. Some of the houses were decorated with colourful stars and balloons.
The temples in that area were all quite different from the temples we had seen on the previous day and luckily with not so
many steps. Phanet dropped us in town about 2pm and we walked around the old market area with it’s French colonial buildings.
That night we ate at another nice garden restaurant (Georges Rhumerie) where we ate Creole,French influenced food. The owner and chef hailed from Reunion island. After dinner we walked back into the old market area where the streets were packed with Cambodians enjoying an enormous street party.

We had a lay day on the Wednesday and got up a bit later, went for a good hour’s walk around the town, had breakfast and then
tried to sort out flights which was proving difficult for dates and times that we wanted. We abandoned that and headed back to town where we bought me a very lightweight pair of trousers and then proceeded to find a little place in a small side street called “Ecstatic Pizza”. We were sitting close to the front of the restaurant and I saw who I thought was our friend Tom from Perth who we were suppose to meet in Phnom Penh. I wasn’t sure as he had sunglasses and cap on but went up to him and sure enough it was him. An amazing coincidence that we found each other. He had not told us that he was coming to Cambodia and we thought he had gone on a fishing trip instead so I didn’t bother emailing him that we had changed hotels in Phnom Penh and he thought he would surprise us instead and couldn’t find us so he came up to Siem Riep anyway. Such an amazing coincidence especially as we were going to go to another cafe for lunch but it was closed and he just happened to be walking along the same little side street!

On Thursday we decided to go and see the sunrise at Angkor Wat so were up at 4.30am for a 5am start with our trusty driver Soeun. It only took about twenty five minutes to arrive there with a hoard of other tourists, mainly Cambodians who were still in Siem Riep from Phnom Penh and from other area for the New Year. After photographing the sunrise we went to the side entrance instead of the front where everyone was heading and were lucky to see a lot of the temple with very few people to contend with. The rest of the day was spent doing last minute shopping and having massages and then to Khmer Touch Cuisine for a meal with our friend Tom.

Soeun took us to the airport on Friday afternoon 17th April to catch our business class MAS flight to Delhi via Kuala Lumpur. We told him that we would be back in Siem Riep which was such a friendly and easy town in which to explore and within easy reach of the wonderful temples to the north of the town. We hoped that the very friendly Cambodians would not lose that trait once tourist numbers rose in the years to come.

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We were collected at the airport by Mr Huot who dropped us at our hotel “La Rose” where we were met by a party of staff who asked if we would like to be upgraded to their new “Suites hotel”.
Of course we didn’t say NO and were whisked off in their 4wd Lexus to the other property which was very opulent with superb staff. Every time we entered the hotel we were met with a cold towel and greeted profusely with our names (well they probably were our names but the pronunciation was very innovative). The level of English comprehension by the Cambodians in the hotel and on the street
was very limited and we had to explain things in a very simple way.
The city had a very comfortable, open feel to it and although we were advised that traffic would be bad, it didn’t seem too bad travelling in the tuk tuks or Remork as they are known in Cambodia. They are much more spacious than the autorickshaws in India but instead of one vehicle they are a covered trailer pulled by a motorbike. We were recommended to go to “Kabbas” restaurant (one of the 300 odd in the city) and drove around for about 40minutes with our lovely driver who didn’t know where the place was after
being shown the location on the phone. After stopping several times to ask directions which had us going backwards and forwards, I spotted the place virtually in front of us while we were stopped to ask further directions. He wanted no extra money and was most appologetic – a lovely fellow called “Gi Vom”

We opted for a tuk tuk ride around the city the morning after we arrived to get our bearings. The hotel was located in a very central area just down the road from a large park with the statue for their independence at it’s centre and a ten minute walk to the river and Royal Palace which was similar to Bangkok’s Royal Palace in size and opulence. We visited the National museum with similar architecture but was a rich terracotta colour with many beautiful ancient life sized sculptures and an interesting virtual tour of ancient times
around Angkor Wat in the north. Wat Phnom with it’s enormous white stupa was surrounded by a leafy park and a large clock with even a working second hand.
There were only a few high rise buildings with many more under construction. There was much controversy apparently over a very new hotel across the river called the “Sokha” built by a Vietnamese of dubious reputation which now spoils the views from the Royal Palace to the other side of the river. The city was very clean on the whole with people collecting rubbish along the roads. We decided not to do the trip out to the “killing fields” or the genocide museum
as we had lived during that era and the subsequent revelations of the killings after 1979 and what Pol Pot did to the nation was enough for us.

The central markets were dominated by a huge domed hall full of very bling jewellery. Long corridors with stalls either side selling every type of goods ran from the main hall and surrounding these were the fresh food markets and eating stalls. Maurice purchased a new polycarbonate ultra light overnight bag for USD35 which was
way below what they wanted for one in Bali. The ice cutting/making stall was fascinating with a truck laden with dripping enormous ice blocks which were then dropped into a delivery shute to a worker who then stack the ice ready for cutting with a circular saw or dropping into what looked like a leaf crusher to be stored as crushed ice.

We were taken to a “safe” local restaurant near the river for lunch where the fresh vegetable rice paper rolls were delicious. Our driver then drove us to the Russian market(couldn’t find out why it was so named) which was a maze of open stalls selling mainly clothes, textiles (their main industry in Cambodia) and souvenirs.
We had time for a quick rest before being collected by Sonya Duck an Australian living in Phnom Penh who runs “Urban Forage” food tours. We started at Phnom Penh Towers rooftop terrace for cocktails and to see the sunset over the city. From there we ventured into the local food markets and started with tastings of local desserts which we found to be delicious, very unlike a lot of Asian desserts. We progressed to sample delicious pork ribs (not for Maurice the vegetarian or pescatarian really) and then to try the delicacies of fried crickets and water beetles and some kind of grubs. I think if I hadn’t had my cocktail first I wouldn’t have tried these but when in Rome and after a couple of drinks…..
The next stop for our nice group of eight with Mr Smiley (obviously his real name!)and another driver was a local restaurant with an enthusiastic band and circulating beer waitresses from the local Angkor beer company who replenished our drinks with firstly a large chunk of ice dropped in the glass. Later in the evening a group of “marlboro girls” in their red and white uniforms offering samples of cigarettes. We hadn’t seen that for a number of years anywhere else!
The menu apart from crispy fried frogs (which were quite tasty) was relatively tame – squid, morning glory vegetable with oyster sauce, spicy prawns, tofu and mixed vegetables. Mr Smiley and co driver joined us and there was much toasting which is done with one hand touching the other arm and shouting cheers in Cambodian.

I opted to do a cooking course in our hotel and was the only person doing it so had very personalized attention.
We made rice paper rolls with peanut and chilli dipping sauce, Fish Amok (which is not a very hot spiced dish) and banana and sago pudding. There was too much food for one so Maurice was allowed to join me for lunch.
A lot of the Khmer food is coconut based and a lot of emphasis is placed on a balance of flavours – sweet, hot, sour and salty. Cambodians like things very sweet and will even put spoonfuls of sugar into their beer.

We encountered few dour people in Cambodia – they were all very welcoming and smiling and the market sellers were not at all pushy and enjoyed the bargaining. They seemed a gentle, patient people in general with no honking of horns or impatience when driving. Sonya told us that in her three years in Phnom Penh she only saw one
incident of anyone raising their voice and that was to apprehend a thief that a group of people then nearly beat to a pulp. She told us that a lot of young people are not happy with the ruling party but the older generation after what they had been through during the Pol Pot era (1975-1979 where he annihilated more than two million people)
just want to have a peaceful existence. Cambodia has elections coming up in eighteen months so that might see a change.
The King is claimed to be gay by unoffical sources but the reason given by the authorities that he hasn’t married was that he is devoted to his position like a monk. The majority of Cambodians are Buddhists and there are many temples and newly contructed temples around the city and in the countryside.

Before going to dinner we opted for our free one hour massage in our hotel and Maurice had a traditional Khmer massage (no oil) which he said was one of the best he had ever had. Mine (with oil) was good too.
We walked on our last night in Phnom Penh to “Malis” a restaurant located a couple of streets away in a lovely garden setting and ponds filled with koi. They served very interesting Khmer food.

We used two tuk tuks to where we were to take the bus (no station as such)to Siem Riep. It was parked with many others beside the night market. One took our luggage and we took another one. Our motorbike had a flat tyre so we walked the last bit to the bus. The driver was most apologetic. The bus to Siem Riep which can take anywhere from 7-10 hours (because of traffic and/or roadworks) was very comfortable – recliner seats with adjustable leg rests and
plenty of leg room. A nice surprise.

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The rain continued on the 12th March when we arrived at Pondok Bambu in Candi Dasa. It was easy to relax at the property just watching the waves crashing over the breakwater in front of us with the island of Nusa Penida in the background and the east coastline of Bali to the right.
The only drawback in Candi Dasa was if we left the hotel which was located on the main road which also ran through the middle of town with a constant stream of trucks and vehicles thunderering up and down especially in the morning and evening.
There were very few tourists in town and instead of being asked if we wanted a taxi every few metres we were occasionally asked it we wanted “sailing in a boat”.
We found goods and services like massages and clothing quite cheap in Candi Dasa with a good hour’s massage costing the equivalent of $7.
Pondok Bambu is owned by a very personable middle aged Dutchman “Gerco Scheeper” a former marine who won 6 million euros in the lottery in 2000 and who came to Candidasa and purchased the property and who had since built himself a house in the jungle and a large restaurant across the road called the “Crazy Kangaroo” in memory of an Aussie friend who had died. They have a very professional dive outfit and specially built boat for such trips.
The property is right over the water and such a relaxing spot especially as there were only four other rooms occupied. We were joined by friends Robert and Gay from Sydney and we relaxed, swam in the sea and pool and took a 20 minute boat ride down to the “white beach” where we swam in crystal clear water and had fresh fish for lunch and lazed by the ocean. We were also lucky enough to see a pod of dolphins on the way there. Ketut who has taken us a few times before in his boat charged us approx $40 for the trip and waited for us for four hours and then took us back to our hotel.
We visited some of our favourite restaurants – Vincents and a little family run “Warung Boni” set amongst the banana trees and on the edge of the hill.

We were told about an upcoming cremation ceremony near Bug Bug village about five kilometres from Candidasa so Gay and I ventured off with a driver to see some of the ceremony. When we arrived at about 3pm there were hundered of men, women and children all dressed in traditional costumes and sitting around chatting. Some children were gambling, playing a roulette type of game and some of the women were finishing off the very decorative fruit offerings. We were told that the actual ceremony would only start at 6pm and finish about 3am the next day so we decided to leave after about an hour but just as the car got from the parking area to the road, the temple police stopped us and said that the main procession was making it’s way down from the village to the temple and we would have to wait for half an hour. There must have been about five thousand people in this procession which we watched from the side of the road with many people carrying offerings and some men carrying huge bamboo boxes also full of offerings. Others were leading calves on ropes along the road. It took nearly an hour for the procession to reach past us towards the temple and we could then leave to go back to Candidasa.
The people came from all over Bali back to their village for this important cremation ceremony. They never seemed to mind foreigners watching or even taking part as we saw a few westerners in traditional dress bearing offerings. There was also a bit of a fair atmosphere with stalls selling clothing, watches, food and live birds and bunnies.

On the 18th March the four of us caught the fast boat (an hour and a half) to Gili Trawangan, the largest of the Gili islands off the coast of Lombok. We decided after two days there that although the “Pearl Lounge” was an excellent place to lounge and eat, we would not be going back there. It is definately a backpacker’s paradise with booming music every night.

They did however have the best pizza at “Pizzeria Regina” (just like a real Italian one – not thin and crispy!). We saw Robert and Gay off and left the following morning on the public fast boat (85,000 rupiah) to Gili Air where we were welcomed back at “Chill out bungalows” by English Vinny and his Indonesian wife Suzi. The harbour is just a bit far to walk with bags so we were scalped for $10 for a 5 minute “cidomo” horse and cart ride but the rest of the two weeks we went for walks around the island which was very relaxing given that there are no motorbikes or cars allowed except for the odd electric motorbike and some of the drivers appeared to be about five years old.
We had two very relaxing weeks swimming in the crystal clear water, walking every morning and doing yoga nearly every day.
There were so many fish of every colour which could be seen very close to the shore. Some days we walked around the island and saw very few people which made a pleasant change from Bali and Gili Trawangan.
The beach was set up every night with tables and chairs so we sat listeneing to the water lapping on the shore while we ate our dinner with a pleasant breeze blowing every evening. It was hot and humid during the day but we could just take a dip if we felt hot.
We watched more TV than we had in the last three years since starting our adventure and we saw some interesting films and a particularly good English series “The Bletchley Circle”.

The “Chill Out” bungalows was such good value for money. They served a three course breakfast (if you wanted it all) with some or all of the following for breakfast – a choice of fresh fruit juice, tea or coffee, fruit and yoghurt,pancake with honey, eggs and toast all for $8. There was a choice of about eight types of fresh fish every night. I had BBQ’d barracuda one night which was very tasty but the chargrilled tuna and vegetable kebabs we ate nearly every night were just delicious.

They were on a large skewer and came with some salad, more vegetables and either chips, baked potato or rice and choice of four sauces for $5.
We reluctantly left the island to Gili Trawangan and then caught the fast ferry back to Bali for a few days to collect the rest of our luggage and do last minute essential shopping and go to some of our favourite restauants before heading to Cambodia on the 7th April.

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