JAPAN for First Timers: An Adjustable Guide

Are you planning on going to Japan for the first time?
Being all excited?
Wondering what to expect?
Having a million questions?
Well, I recently came back from my first big Japan-adventure and let me tell you: It was just overwhelming; in a good way!

Geisha with phone in Kyoto
Beautifully dressed up for Japan.

As I had the chance to travel for three weeks, I know that not everybody has the opportunity to leave for so long. Therefore, based on my itinerary, I put together a travel guide. You can adjust it individually to your personal trip – for one, two, or three weeks in the Land of the Rising Sun.

日本へようこそ – Nihon e yōkoso – Welcome to Japan!

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TOKYO – introduction to 10 extraordinary neighborhoods

Tokyo – my first encounter with Japanese everyday life and culture – left a good impression and prepared me for more to come.

Students at Tokyo in Japan
A warm and fun welcome to Tokyo by these sweet ambassadors.

Tokyo – the first cut is the deepest. However, this one didn’t hurt at all. So let me introduce you to 10 extraordinary neighborhoods.

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KAWAGUCHIKO – taking a shot at Mount Fuji

I’ve heard that there are people travelling periodically to the region west of Tokyo just to take a good shot of Mount Fuji.

A shot of Mount Fuji seen from Kawaguchiko in Japan
This is the picture I wanted to shoot. I didn’t. The person credited below did. (Photo: Kpravin2, Mount Fuji Japan with Snow, Lakes and Surrounding Mountains, CC BY-SA 4.0)

This majestic, perfectly shaped volcano – that erupted lastly in 1707 – seems to be hiding behind clouds most of the time. Therefore, it can be a challenge – or a hobby – hunting the best view. Or at least a glimpse.

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NAGOYA – enjoy the ordinary

Tourist attraction wise, Nagoya has by far less to offer than Tokyo or let alone Kyoto.

bye:myself at Nagoya Castle in Japan
Shogun for a day.

Brands like Mitsubishi, Toyota, and even Shinkansen are all settled in Nagoya. I assume they sound more familiar than the city’s own name.

I guess that’s the reason why most foreign visitors just skip Japan’s fourth-largest city located on the Pacific coast in favor of the more glamorous metropolis.

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CAMBODIA – a complete travel guide

“…now you can go where people are one
Now you can go where they get things done
What you need my son:
Is a holiday in Cambodia
Where people dress in black
A holiday in Cambodia
Where you’ll kiss ass or crack…”

This is an excerpt from the song “Holiday in Cambodia” by the US band “The Dead Kennedys”. They were a punk band, hence the lyrics are meant to grate on you in their very cynical way.

And as a matter of fact, Cambodia has always been a synonym for murder and destruction and by no means a holiday destination; apart from Angkor, Asia’s most important sanctuary, that has been a World Heritage Cultural site since 1992.

Two monks admiring the model of Angkor Wat at the Preah Vihear Preah Keo Morakot at Phnom Penh
Also, monks were prosecuted during the Khmer Rouge regime.

Only when my friend Philippe told me about his plans of travelling to Cambodia, I took into consideration that it might be an interesting destination and a country worth exploring. I decided following his example.

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PHNOM PENH – a guide to Cambodia’s provincial capital

Phnom Penh hasn’t much to impress. On the other hand, it surprises by being probably the world’s most provincial city with more than two million inhabitants in the metropolitan area.

Street Scene from Phnom Penh
One of the main streets of Phnom Penh – still having a certain provincial flair.

It’s rare to travel a country and not missing much by avoiding its capital. Actually there are tourists who do not make it to Phnom Penh at all. They go from Bangkok to Siem Reap and from there straight to Sihanoukville from where they cross the border to Vietnam via Kampot and Kep; and that’s it.

this way to read the whole story >>>

SIHANOUKVILLE – Cambodia’s most popular beach town

Sihanoukville is Cambodia’s most popular beach town, however, it has a rather bad reputation – particularly among European tourists and travellers.

Sokha beach in SIHANOUKVILLE - Cambodia's most popular beach town
Tranquil Sokha Beach

But I find that already this picture shows that Sihanoukville absolutely has its nice corners and can be the perfect gateway to various great locations.

this way to read the whole story >>>

From KAMPOT to THANSUR BOKOR and back

I want more. Much more. Money? No way! I want time!

Wat Trauy Kooh
 
Wat Trauy Kooh on Fish Isle Kampot: Studying with a view

I want more time. More time to live anyroad – 106 healthy years.
But I first and foremost want longer days – at least 36 hours, better 48.

There are so many things to do, they just don’t fit in 24 hours. And don’t think I’m suffering from this shortage of time only during my travels. No, I’d need extra hours when I’m at home, too.
There is my day job that I have to do in order to pay my rent – and of course my travels. Most of the time I even like it. Then there is my blogging which is very important to me, but it’s extremely time consuming, especially since I still have to cross-publish on social media. Then I need to do some sports and I enjoy a relaxing visit to the Spa afterwords; takes a couple of hours. And of course there are all the chores and errands we all know. Oh, and I need to get enough sleep so I’m less grumpy.

When travelling I like to see as much a possible, that’s obvious. But I also like to relax a bit. I’d like to enjoy the beautiful hotel rooms and get pampered at the hotels’ facilities. In the evening I’d like to go out and chat with people on the one hand, on the other I’d enjoy some quiet time bye:myself. I’d like to do some beauty treatments, I’d like to read my book – and of course I need a lot of time to write my blog posts and edit the pictures. And I’m not even following all these blog boosting activities that I do at home which immediately affects the traffic.
All these activities – and passivities – do not fit in 24 hours.

Why I am complaining about this while I’m here in Cambodia? Because I constantly have to choooooose! And my choice ought to be everything, but obviously that’s impossible.
Yes, it’s not a very Buddhist approach, it didn’t rub off yet.

Monks at Wat Trauy Kooh
 
I should learn equanimity from these young students at Wat Trauy Kooh.
On the other hand – they don’t look that very happy….

I came to Kampot today. Kampot is very, very nice, actually the nicest place in Cambodia so far (apart from the deserted beach on Koh Rong, but you cannot compare a secluded beach to the capital of a province). At the same time the guest house I’m staying at is the nicest I’ve been to in Cambodia by now. The room is quite small, but it’s so cozy and with all these pretty, pretty details. I’d like to spend time in here. Quality time. Reading. Writing. Cherishing.

 
It’s quite small, it’s not luxury, but it’s so cozy and inviting. I’d simply like to live on this bed for at least half a day; but pleasure is calling from outside.

But like I said: Kampot is very, very nice. And I’m here for one day. So after checking in I spent about ten minutes in the room and off I went on my bike to explore more of this extremely charming town.

Kampot
 
This is how it’s done, IKEA: furnishing for the whole house delivered on a motor bike – and no assembly required!

First of all there is the promenade along Kampot Bay River that has an almost mediterranean flair to it. There are a couple of architectural treasures from the colonial time. There are many rather hip-laid back restaurants and bars and little specialty shops.

Kampot
 
Colonial charm along the riverside.

There is the local market where you find all the stuff that you get at the little specialty shops at half price.

Market in Kampot
 
 
The fruit department,….
Market in Kampot
 
…the dried fish’n’shrimps secion,…..
Market in Kampot
 
…the food court,….
Market in Kampot
 
….and finally the butcher shop that will make that I’ll never worry about hygiene or continuous cooling-chain again.

There are pepper plantations and salt fields – Kampot’s main source of income (maybe outran by tourism by now, I’m not sure). There is the old bridge which is really old and in a lamentable condition so that no cars let alone busses or lorries are allowed to cross.

Once you cross it, you’re on Fish Isle which is a basically untouched rural area with large rice paddies and warped housings. Therebetween a small mosque and a big Buddhist temple.

Fish Isle
 
A couple harvesting rice by hand. The bunches are disposed on top of the crop.
 
These ladies are enjoying a nice afternoon treat.
Fish Isle

All this is very appealing and worth to be embraced and appreciated.
That’s exactly what I did for the rest of the day until I got really tired and planned to grab dinner and then just go back to my homely room. Reading. Writing. Cherishing.

So after a lovely Khmer dinner I cycled along the promenade and it was exactly the hour when the big houseboat-like ships take off to a river cruise in the dark, i. a. to spot fireflies.

Although I had initially decided against this tour – since I intended to enjoy my homely room doing some reading, writing, cherishing – seeing the first ships passing by, nicely illuminated, people enjoying a drink on the top deck…I left my bike at the promenade, forked over five bucks and faster than you think I was one of the people on the top deck enjoying a beer that’s even included in the already reasonable fare.

Cruise on Kampot Bay River
 
So we took off into the sunset,….
Cruise on Kampot Bay River
 
…heading towards the old bridge,….
Cruise on Kampot Bay River
 
…which is really very, very low; extremely low.

What can I say, there are too many nice things to do, sometimes I just let my gut decide.

How are you dealing with this matter? Do you have too little time for your favorite activities? How do you pick your priorities?

It’s almost spooky: In my last post I’ve complained about too many options, too little time – and today I got stuck since noon at a wonderful place in a luxurious hotel room with oodles of time to get a lot of pleasurable things done.

Wat Sampov Pram - golden Buddha
 
The golden Buddha at Wat Sampov Pram. One of the many sights we were not able to see on the first day in the mist.

Again, the day started out quite active, but was clipped by the weather.

 
Someone up there must have read my last post where I was complaining about not having time to get everything done.
So they sent heavy clouds and lots of mist.

Yin

 

But let me start from the beginning: Besides the pepper farms and salt fields a trip to the Thansur Bokor mountain is the tourists’ favorite activity. Up the mountain there are ruins of King Sihanouk’s summer residence, there used to be a casino for the French colonialists that today is in ruins, but being renovated. The French used to come to Thansur Bokor for the cooler climate, just like they did in Viet Nam in Đà Lạt.

 
It sure is high on Thansur Bokor.

There are the remnants of an old Catholic church, there is the beautiful Wat Sampov Pram and the ‘ghost town’, a settlement destroyed by the Khmer Rouge. And there is the Thansur Bokor Highland Resort, a huge hotel with an adjacent casino.

 
This is what it looks like when you can’t see…
 
….and that’s the next day.
 
This is what it looks like in heavy mist….
 
…and here with clear skies. The first day we didn’t even anticipate that there might be a fantastic view behind the building.
 
And the building itself deserves a little sunshine to present all its pretty red mold and moss.

Before I came to Cambodia, I had booked a room at the resort since it has five stars and I got it at an unbeatable price. But as everybody goes only on day trips, it’s either complicated or expensive to get there. They offer a really good deal including transportation, but we’ll get to that later. Anyway, I had to arrange my own transportation. At Kampot they offered me transportation for 12 Dollars, but a guided tour including all the above mentioned sights is only one Dollar more, so I obviously chose that. Plus it’s more fun to be with people from time to time and actually I met a nice German couple, a nice French couple and a cool Dutch single lady.

Cool is key, the higher we got, the colder it was. There was an ice-cold wind blowing and a damp mist came down on our lot – mostly dressed in shorts and little T-shirts. The mist did not cover only us, it covered actually everything and obstructed the view at things that were farther away than six feet max. That’s not so good when you go up a mountain for the views. Or to take pictures of picturesque ruins. Or both. The poor guide was so apologetic, I almost pitied him.

Since we couldn’t see anything, the trip that is advertised as an all-day-excursion (which is a teeny swindle, anyway) was over by 11:40 a. m.
To me, it didn’t matter since I had booked it as my mean of transportation, so I happily checked in at the hotel while the rest of the group headed downhill.

I was welcomed by the very nice Mr. Nam Sambath, the front office manager. He took his time to explain all the facilities, escorted me to my room and made sure I’d be perfectly comfortable here. Unfortunately the swimming pool and the Spa are undergoing renovation, but therefore I finally had the opportunity of limited choices: I couldn’t go out in the mist and williwaw again, it was far too cold. I couldn’t hang out at the Spa. Perfect, finally time to read my book, to write my blog, to share a thing or two on my social media channels, to take a bath, to enjoy an oil-cream-peeling, to book my flight to Brazil (yes, guys, I’m joining another language course – two weeks Portuguese in Rio de Janeiro – you’ll be the first to learn how that’s going). I’ve spent about eight hours in a bathrobe in bed (evidently apart from the bit when I took the bath) and was still so productive.

Since I had eaten only some fruits from the platter Mr. Nam Sambath had sent for me, at eight at night I decided to get dressed and have dinner. Of course they have a 24 hours room service and it’s even at the same price like the restaurant (which by the way is surprisingly reasonably priced), but I needed to leave the room for a bit.

 
Where is everybody? Having dinner bye:myself – at 8 p. m., the perfect dinner time.

The hotel is impressively big: long hallways between vast sitting areas. Super high ceilings over a huge reception and the adjacent bar. Waitresses and Maître D’ at every turn, all dressed in sleek uniforms. Everything seems to be prepared for large crowds from the high society. Instead they have me here, walking around in my sensible travel skirt and matching sensible sandals and a striped T-shirt. Then there are some scattered guests, but basically the staff have the joint to themselves.
The very nice guy at the bar told me that during Cambodian public holidays they are fully booked. Well, this is definitely not the Cambodian holiday season, I can tell you that.

Thansur Bokor Highland Resort - Room
 
This is where I’ve spent my day. You can even see the bathrobe I was wearing.

While everything is so perfect and nice, there is one thing that they have to improve: I mentioned above the really good deal they have. They pick you up at Sihanoukville at their other hotel (Sokha is a chain), take you to Thansur Bokor, give you a room with breakfast and dinner included, you get a 10$ voucher for the casino (I got that, too, but I cannot go in a bathrobe to the casino, neither in my sensible travel skirt and my matching sandals since I would freeze my but off) and a free 30 minutes tour on the lake (there must be a lake here, but since it’s misty, I can’t see it, the view is actually nil. Nil! I’m not exaggerating). Eventually they cart you back to Sihanoukville.

 
The Chinese Pagoda – located right next to the Thansur Bokor Highland Resort is another beautiful building not to be missed.

The whole package costs about 75 bucks per person, which is a great price. I inquired for this option before I came to Cambodia and they wrote me back that it’s based on two people and if I wanted to do it, I had to pay for two. Ok, I felt a bit discriminated and was a bit affronted, but now that I see that there’s nobody here, there are probably no groups to join. Understandable.
But today as I got here, I saw on the menu that they are offering high tea in the afternoon – for two people. I asked Mr. Nam about it and he told me, that the price is calculated for two and I had to pay the same price even so I am just one person.
After I’ve met i. a. the gentleman from Turkey – travelling by himself, the lady from Kyrgyzstan – travelling by herself, Vincent from Singapore – being here by himself, the cool woman from the Netherlands….just to mention a few. All people in my age and probably with an ok income who could easily afford this hotel – they definitely should adjust their policy to this apparently growing group of travelling people.

All in all, this forced break from all the wonderful travelling activities was so relaxing that I might make this part of my travel routine!

Yang

 

Same place, next morning: Gloriously blue sky – bright sunlight over the mountains. Aaaah, this is what this place looks like; beautiful!

 
Blue skies where there was a big white nothing just the day before.

After a generous breakfast I hop on a posh mountain bike with eight gears, they even put a complimentary bottle of water in the holder, and off I go exploring what our group missed in yesterday’s mist (pun intended).

 
They sure have a wide range of hot dishes like rice, noodles, veggies and meats already for breakfast.
Yes, it’s my reflection in the pot with French toast.
 
One of my favorite Asian breakfasts: steamed pork dumplings.
Old Catholic church on Thansur Bokor

Well…’off I go’ is downhill, uphill it’s a drag, no matter how many gears. But that doesn’t matter, I’m so thrilled to see this majestic landscape, revisiting many of the spots we’ve been to. It’s amazing, yesterday there wasn’t even the slightest hint that there are these fantastic views all over Kampot and the ocean.

 
My favorite building on Thansur Bokor: The old Catholic church – now almost in ruins.
 
I love the morbid charm of the weathered facade covered with red mildew.
 
There are obviously still faithful going to the church – there are pictures of Jesus, crosses and flowers.
In this demolished building it deems almost like a cult.
Old Catholic church on Thansur Bokor
at the old Catholic church on Thansur Bokor
Wat Sampov Pram

I’m so thrilled that I forget to put on sun protection and in the evening – now back to Sihanoukville, I have not only a fire red nose, I also have red arms with light ‘sleeves’ where my shirt’s sleeves protected the arms against the sun.

 
A last look back at wonderful Wat Sampov Pram.

However, Thansur Bokor was a great experience and I’ll make sure to let you know in the in below mentioned travel guide to Cambodia which will be published on December 23 how to get there and back and have a great time no matter how far you can see.

Sidenote

 

Interesting encounter on my way back to Sihanoukville: A lady and two teenage kids, a girl of maybe 14 and a gorgeous boy of about 12 – if I needed a 12 year old male model, him I would pick in a blink of an eye, speaking Russian to each other. Tourist, I thought, whereby I was puzzled when the lady asked the dispatcher if the bus was fully booked in Khmer. And the kids exchanged pleasantries with the other passengers in perfect American English. Turns out they are from Ukraine and have been living here for six years. The father is a medical doctor at the international clinic in Sihanoukville and the kids are going to the international school, hence the great command of English. The lady told me that live was so miserable in Ukraine that they needed to leave and picked Cambodia more or less by incident, he was not sent over by the red cross or an NGO or something alike. Interesting that for a group of people things seem to be worse in Ukraine than in Cambodia.

=================

Actually Kampot was my favorite place in Cambodia. But that’s because it is exactly how I like cities when I travel: used to some tourism so that people don’t stare at me like the circus came to town. And not overrun by travellers so that people are oblivious or even annoyed.

Kampot’s elegant promenade.

Kampot in Cambodia

It’s the perfect mix, and one day was far too short.

But since I had only three weeks for Cambodia, I had to choose and divide my time square and fair.

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Guide to SIEM REAP – beyond ANGKOR WAT

SIEM REAP - beyond ANGKOR WAT
The world famous reflection can be captured as well at 7 a. m.

But as a matter of fact, Siem Reap was not this trip’s most memorable part; and even Angkor was only one of the highlights. But that’s definitely a personal story. Here’s a roundup of four days in Cambodia’s tourist hot spot.

Yesterday I felt bad. I felt ignorant: Contrary to expectations Angkor did not blow me away.
I think it’s because the expectations were too high after all the hype there is about it. I felt like such a jaded snob who thinks to have seen it all since I’ve remembered how enchanted I was by the temple site in Sukhothai. Was the spell broken? Will I never be mesmerized by temple ruins again?

Today, having been back to Angkor to do the long circuit, I realized that yesterday’s oblivion wasn’t on me. At least not totally.

(Note: This diary entry goes backwards)

Angkor – Day 2

“You should go to Machu Picchu.” I turn around and there is a very handsome guy, blasé latino type. “I’ve been to Machu Picchu”, I inform him, “and I was very impressed. Actually so impressed that I cried. But I think it’s because of the height: You can see the whole complex at once on these mist covered mountains – you feel so close to heaven. Where are you from, anyway?” “From Perú.” Ok, that explains it all.

Preah Khan
Just one example of the finest craftsmanship at Preah Khan, one of the most intriguing temples in Angkor and definitely the highlight of the long circuit.
Preah Khan
The Khmer’s architectural abilities were amazing:
Preah Khan consist of four absolutely symmetrical
hallways with countless doors.

And yes, here we have reason #1 why Angkor didn’t take me in storm and brought me to tears like Machu Picchu did: It’s a really, really vast area with lots of jungle-ish parts, rice paddies, rows of hawker shops and restaurants between the temples’ remnants, so that you are meandering from ruin to ruin – that are undoubtably all very nice and impressive, each and every one in its own way, but there is not the overwhelming effect of seeing it at once in all its glory. I sort of expected that.

Reason #2 were the masses of people – at least yesterday, when I did the so-called short circuit that everybody does since it includes i. a. the famous Angkor Wat. Everybody means hordes, especially Chinese performing stampedes, pushing people aside and occupying merciless the most beautiful spots with never ending shootings of the most ridiculous poses.

I mean, you are basically climbing very dusty rocks in a hellish heat. These chicks were wearing cute summer dresses with strappy sandals, using this rich heritage simply to stage themselves, spurred on by the directing yells of their photographing husbands. And they are always in big, very noisy crowds, so they are very hard to ignore.

That, my friends, has a very disenchanting impact.

Preah Khan
 
Miracles do happen at Preah Khan!
I don’t know how the guard did it – it’s just the light incidence in the building’s very center.

Today I did the long circuit which is more expensive, but less popular and much less crowded, and look at this, I was happily frolicking on moss covered rocks and under scarily fixed constructions. No groups! Just individual travellers like me – we all had a good time and I do not worry about my ability to appreciate beautiful things anymore.

Preah Khan Lake
 
Eventually did come the moment that I almost cried: When I saw the glittering lake at Preah Khan.

Angkor – Day 1

First Angkor-day – long anticipated, and that is probably reason #3 for my initial indifference: Angkor simply couldn’t meet my expectations that everybody had triggered so much. I expected I would be ready to faint; but I was not.

I arrived on the site at approximately 5:30 a. m. to see the sun rise over Angkor Wat. Great idea. Great idea that I had shared with a couple of hundreds other early birds who arrived from all sides mostly in tuk-tuks, but also in cars, vans, motorcycles and even bicycles. These hundreds of people crossed in the pitch dark a plastic bridge that felt like a bouncy castle towards Angkor Wat. And then we were standing there staring towards the temple while the eager hawkers were noisily advertising all sort of goods including the only reasonable one: hot coffee.

Angkor Wat
 
5:30 in the morning, and there were so many early birds – whole flocks of them.

Standing there staring for a while, it became evident that this day there would be no proper sunrise. Of course the sun did rise, it was not the end of the world after all, but it did its job bashfully hidden behind clouds.

Angkor Wat
 
Angkor Wat: Up where we belong.

As soon as I realized that, I left the crowds and went into the temple. Let me tell you, at 5:45 a. m. you find yourself even at Angkor Wat with about two handful of other pessimists who gave up the idea of a sunrise. It’s a perfect timing: No groups, no crowds. The central tower that now can be more or less comfortably climbed over wooden stairs (still very steep!) opens at 6:40 a. m., I was in line at 6:25 – about twenty people before me, perfect timing. Today I’ve met a guy who had had to wait for three hours since they let in a hundred people at a time max.

Angkor Wat
 
Temple with a view.

But Angkor Wat, although the largest and most of all best-preserved complex, is by far not my favorite temple.

Angkor Wat - Dancers
 
Even in the early morning the mood’s in full swing at Angkor Wat.

I liked Bayon with all these mellow, chubby Khmer-faces much better and also the Baphuon complex with the beautiful elephant-terrace is very alluring.

Wat Bayon
 
Wat Bayon – short before the Chinese tourist groups arrived.
Wat Buophon - Elephant terrace
 
Just two examples of the many, many elephants decorating this terrace – and they are all different.

The most enchanted, almost bewitched temple was today’s last stop: Ta Prohm, where nature really reconquered what men had wrested from earth.

Ta Prohm
 
A tree growing over Ta Prohm’s fence.
Please notice the exquisite reliefs on the wall.
Ta Prohm
 
These roots have a firm grip on the remains of Ta Prohm’s structures.
Ta Prohm
 
There is always room for shenanigans: squeezing myself into a hollow trunk.

Siem Reap – Day 2: Outing to the countryside

Since my guest house offers tours to all the points of interest at the same price like most of the tuk tuk-drivers (after what I’ve heard along the trip), I agreed with them on three tours: Angkor short circuit including sun rise, Angkor longe circuit and a trip to the Roluos temples and the Kompong Phluk floating village.

Angkor Wat - North Gate
 
This is adorable Mr. Syna who took good care
of me the entire three days.

8 a. m., Mr. Syna is waiting and ready to go and the first thing I do is I misbehave.

Yesterday I had cycled to the sales point for the Angkor tickets and told them I wanted to go on the 4th and 5th to Angkor Wat. The lady told me to buy my ticket from the 2nd of December since it’s valid for 10 days, but no, I knew it better and told her to make it work from the 4th.

You should know they are super-strict with the tickets, they even have your picture on it and if you falsify it, you pay 100 bucks penalty per day.

So I had a ticket but didn’t know that it was not exclusively for Angkor Wat, but for many other sites around Siem Reap, too. Too bad that since I hadn’t listen to the lady mine was not good yet.

Instead of getting a grip I was barking around how expensive everything is and that I had already paid for the Angkor Wat ticket and now I had to pay for the Roluos site, too, blablabla.

Anyway, luckily there came a moment when I understood that they didn’t try to rip me off, but that I’ve been a fool for not listening. Tough shit, now I had a ticket, only not for the day. What the heck, Mr. Syna, let’s go, we’ll manage.

Well, I wouldn’t say ‘we managed’ – I did one of my hysterical routines as the guy at the control point pointed out the date to me – which unfortunately was not the one on my ticket. I explained how the lady didn’t tell me that the ticket was good also for other sites and how sad I am now and there was a lot of talking and even more ‘pleasepleaseplease’ and he kept calling someone and repeating to me that the ticket wasn’t good.

And then his boss came and I repeated my hysterical ‘I will cry’ and ‘pleasepleaseplease’ routine and the boss – actually a young kid – said it was ok and punched a hole in the ‘3’ on my ticket and quoted his ID-number (which actually helped me the next day at Angkor Wat where of course they immediately noticed that the 3rd was validated although the ticket was valid only from the 4th) and I got to see the Roluos temples.

Roluos temples
 
You gotta fight for your right to see the Roluos temples.
Roluos Temples
 
The sarong is not an ethnic fashion statement: I was wearing shorts and although the temples are partly ruins, celebrations are still taking place so you are requested to dress decent, i. e. knees and shoulders covered.

Later Mr. Syna brought me to the gateway for the floating village rides where I got another fit when the teller demanded 40 bucks for the boat ride. Hm, we were driving quite a long way so that I couldn’t tell Mr. Syna that I had changed my mind; and I didn’t change my mind, I just didn’t expect to pay 40 bucks for a boat ride. I asked some ladies from Taiwan that I had met the the Roluos temples how much they paid: 20 $. Back to the teller, complaining that others had to pay only 20. Yes, but you are by yourself. Although he got that right, I don’t understand why they hire a boat per party (which in my case was 1, indeed) instead of putting people together on boats and charge let’s say 15 or even 20 bucks per person. But it doesn’t matter if I understand it or not – it’s their business and they can run it as they please and if I don’t like it, I don’t get to see the floating village. It’s not the teller telling me that, it’s my sense, but I’m sure the teller would tell me exactly that only his English is not good enough.

Kompong Phluk
 
I’m such a copy cat: Since I’ve learned that Martin Parr has a whole collection of these incredibly tacky souvenir pictures, I’m not that avert to buying them like I used to be.
This one is particularly carelessly cobbled together.
A word about my facial expression: I had just made the calculation in my head how much I’ve been duped when unexpectedly the guy with the camera showed up in my face. He was lucky that I didn’t punch him.

Anyway, the trip to the village was really nice, I’ve never seen anything like this before, and what I appreciated the most is that the visitors are really seeing the village and the real village life and it’s not some made up Disney Worldish nonsense like I’ve seen e. g. in Tunisia where they take you to fake villages in the desert and you see exactly that the whole thing is a charade for the tourists and not genuine at all. So I really liked floating through this legitimate area of Cambodian culture.

Later I’ve learned from an Italian couple who denied to fork over 40 bucks that there is a possibility to visit at least parts of the village by tuk tuk – they paid their driver 10 bucks extra for that. I remember having seen a dust-road behind the houses built on steles. Still, I find it more adequate to visit a village on water from the water.

Kompong Phluk
 
Real people really working – of course on the river.
Kompong Phluk
 
Kompong Phluk floating village.
Kompong Phluk village
 
The following rowing through the water ‘jungle’ was nice, but quite pointless.
I love the girl’s facial expression in this picture a lot.
 
…and of course there were vendors waiting – and since we were on the water, their was no escape.
I’m afriad this permanent ‘Madame, buy something, only one Dollar’ – all with the same accent, all at an identical pitch will be haunting me for weeks.

Kompong Phluk

 

Siem Reap – Day 1: City tour by bicycle

Honestly, I had been very nervous before the trip by night bus from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap. There are so many accidents reported – especially on night busses – and after my adventures on boats and ferries I felt like tickling my luck. Plus, it was my daughter’s birthday, so I’d found it particularly tragic if I had died because the bus collided with a cow (that a bus hits a cow seems to happen very often; the passengers don’t necessarily die from it, though). Hence, I was very happy having arrived safe and sound at Siem Reap after quite a long sleep.

Giant Ibis night bus
 
As long as the night bus doesn’t collide with a cow, it’s a great and reasonably priced way to travel (but be sure to pick the right bus company – recommendations will follow in the upcoming informative résumé of my trip) 

My guest house is somewhere in the outskirts of Siem Reap, supposedly about 2 miles from the center, but I think that’s as the crow flies, and I am no crow, I’m a cyclist.

Siem Reap could even be quite charming if there weren’t this Angkor overkill and all the locals that understood quite well that the Barang is just a cash cow. I don’t particularly like it here, but I don’t dislike it, either. It has its spots.

Wat Preah Prom Rath
 
Wat Preah Prom Rath downtown Siem Reap

What’s funny in Cambodia is how provincial even bigger cities deem – even Phnom Penh has something countrified to it – by no means comparable to Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi. And Siem Reap, although being home to 175,000 inhabitants and therefore Cambodia’s fourth largest city, even has lots of dust roads as soon as you leave the mere center.

Siem Reap
 
Tuk tuk drivers waiting for customers.
Judging from his smile, I have the feeling the one to the right is winning.

There’s a river – that’s an asset, and there are a couple of Wats. There’s a big market where mainly tourists shop and therefore it’s a big rip off. I don’t even want to think about the amounts that I have overpaid – starting with the silk scarves in Koh Dach (by now I think that I’ve paid six times as much as they cost elsewhere!). Again: I only hope that all the money that I’m overpaying goes to some really needy families with old parents and young kids.

Little Girl at Preah Khan
 
This little girl was sitting all by herself at the entrance to Preah Khan. I assume that she’s the daughter or grand-daughter
of one of the musicians you can see in the background: At many temples there are little orchestras of handicapped people
that fell victim to the remaining land mines. In this case I don’t think twice to put some money in the collecting box:
Since already for young, strong and healthy people life isn’t easy in Cambodia, how hard must it be for a handicapped person!?

This said, I need to make a confession: I did a bad, bad thing today, I bought a pirated copy of a book. It’s the sequel to the truly fantastic story “First they killed my father” by Loung Ung. I was very hesitant because being a blogger I strongly believe in copyright. But I intended to buy it, anyway, and most probably I had ordered it from amazon, hence supported a pretty shady corporation, so that would be a bad thing, too, only legal. So I hope that Ms. Ung, whom I admire and respect a lot, forgives me that I’ve preferred to support this young man selling really badly made copies of her books – please, Ms. Ung, look at it as kind of a donation from both of us.

But now back to Siem Reap’s attractions: There is a ‘pub street’ which is meant for individual travellers like you and me, but it’s definitely not for me – for you, I don’t know since I don’t know your liking. I strongly dislike streets where tourists are supposed to let their hair hang down.

On the way to the airport I saw the alternative: Enormous hotel buildings catering to large groups – at present mainly from China and Korea. They sure are milking the Angkor-cow here. The city itself will lose the little charm that’s left over the next years.
And with that said, I’m afraid Siem Reap is lost for good.

Siem Reap
 
Actually, there is something very laid-back – or down, for that matter – about Siem Reap.

Siem Reap is synonymous with Angkor Wat, Cambodia’s most famous sight.

The reflection of Angkor Wat in the morning sun.

The reflection of Angkor Wat in the morning sun.

And this will very soon put the final nail in Siem Reap’s coffin.

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