Thursday, February 05, 2009

Cambodia Trip '08 – Day 04: Phnom Penh to Siem Reap Overland Trip

Day 4 of our Cambodia trip was set aside as our travel day. To keep cost low, the group decided to travel to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh via chartered minivan instead of taking a local flight from Phnom Penh. In hindsight, the flight option would definitely be the one to take if one was pressed for time but the overland trip did allow us a glimpse of the Cambodian country side. We also planned to stop at the village of one of our Cambodian hosts as part of our out reach activities there.

(L: On the way out of Phnom Penh, R: Road conditions near Phnom Penh)

We left very early in the morning after breakfast and was soon on our way to out of Phnom Penh. Thanks to the recent rainy season and the influx of people coming into the city for the Water Festival that was starting on the day we left, the road leading out of Phnom Penh was congested and very muddy. The ride was also quite bumpy thanks to the number of potholes on the road but they eventually tapered off once we drove further from the city and hit the trunk road connecting the two cities.

(Scenes on the way from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap)

The scenery along the way was mostly flooded plains with rice fields in various stages of maturity. Unlike the terraced rice fields that I saw in the trip from Bandung to Jogja earlier in the year, the rice fields in Cambodia were mostly flat and nondescript. A distinctive feature that I remembered from this trip was the numerous piles of rice stalks on the side of the road which was used to feed their cows. We also passed houses with open sided verandahs which had the customary hammock hung for the occupants to sleep in while trying to keep cool under the hot Cambodian sun. Another distinctive sight on this trip compared to the one that we had earlier in Phnom Penh was the number of small roadside stalls run by women selling pineapples and fried bananas.

(Scenes from the rest stop enroute to Siem Reap)

After about 2 hours of travelling, our minivan made a pit stop at a local rest stop to let up stretch our legs and have a toilet break. The rest stop was basically a road side restaurant catering to travelers on that route. The rest stop was quite busy with travelers and touts selling all manner of food items to the travelers. I can’t attest to the cleanliness of the toilets there as I decided to skip it after seeing the long queues for the toilets. I assumed that the number of people at the rest stop that day was due to the holidays and that it was usually much quieter than it was that day. After everyone was back in the minivan, we made our way to our next destination which was the Muslim community at Trobang Chuk village.

(Heading to old school building)

(Scenes near the old school building)

(At the new school building built by Malaysia volunteers)

(Village children at Trobang Chuk)

After about another hour of travelling, we reached the village to Trobang Chuk where our Cambodian host was from. Like our visit to Kampong Chnang in Phnom Penh, our visit to the Muslim community in Trobang Chuk was part of the outreach program planned by the organizers. We stopped by the village mosque where there had schools built for the local children. One of the school building was obviously in a sorry state but they also have a fairly new tin roofed school building that was recently built by Malaysian volunteers that had came to the area earlier. I also spent time talking to some of the villagers who had worked before in Malaysia and was able to talk to me in Malay about their life in the village.

(Detail of the interior of a local Cambodian village house)

(Our lunch spread prepared by our gracious hosts)

After distributing the clothes, school supplies and alms that we brought with us for this trip, we were graciously invited for a lunch specially prepared for us at the house of our host’s relatives. The house was typical of the houses in the village and I could see that they also built these traditional houses without the use of metal nails like I’ve seen in old houses back home. The lunch spread was quite gracious with a selection of fried chicken, freshwater fish and vegetable soup. Like the lunch we had before in Kampong Chnang, we encountered a type of thin dipping sauce that was made out of peanuts, pepper and lime juice which accompanied the fried chicken. Having learnt our lesson from the earlier encounter with Cambodian dipping sauces, we knew that it was provided for the chicken but it was so good on it’s own that we ended us using the dipping sauce as a soup for the rice like we did before.

(Exterior of Cambodian village house with cement stairs)

(Dried rice stalks feed pile for the village cows)

After the filling lunch and the warm send off by the villagers, we were back on the road again heading towards Siem Reap. It was nearly 2 hours later before we reached the second biggest city in Cambodia and the Angkor Princess Hotel where we would be based during our stay in Siem Reap. If I was not mistaken, the overland trip from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap took almost 5 hours if I took out the time we spent at the rest stop and at Trobang Chuk village. It was a fairly long trip to be sitting in a land transport so I would not really recommend it unless one really had time to spend for the overland trip. I would definitely consider using the daily domestic flights the next time I have to travel from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap.

(Interior of d'Wau Restaurant, Siem Reap)

After checking into the hotel and resting for about ½ hour, we left the hotel to have dinner that was already arranged for us at the d’Wau Restaurant in Wat Bo Village, Siem Reap village. Owned and operated by a Malaysian, the restaurant was advertised as being the 1st ever Malaysian Cuisine Restaurant in Siem Reap. While I was thankful of having easy access to halal food, the thought of travelling all the way to Siem Reap and ending up having Malaysian food for dinner was a bit of a downer. It was still quite a filling dinner and fairly close to what it suppose to taste like back home. I guess that if someone was homesick, d’Wau Restaurant would be a good place to go to for a taste of home even though all the prices were in US Dollars instead of Malaysian Ringgit.

(Shops at Centre Market, Siem Reap)

We made our way to the Center Market in Siem Reap for a bit of shopping for most of the group. Less colorful than the original Old Market and the new Night Markets, the Center Market was built to obviously cater to the tourists who came to the city. Fairly spread out shops there sold all items that we saw in Phnom Penh at almost equivalent prices. I only had to buy a small number of gifts there as I already did the bulk of my shopping list earlier in Phnom Penh so I spent most of the time waiting for the other people in the group to finish their purchases. Given the late hour of the evening, the market was virtually deserted with the exception of our group and the shop owners.

(Art Deco inspired building near Center Market which I think might be a upscale hotel - Updated: It is a hotel - the Hotel De La Paix. Thanks, Famil)

After all the shopping was done, we headed back to the hotel where me and my travelling companion decided to go for the 15 minutes complimentary neck and shoulder message at the hotel fitness center. We decide to make reservations for a full body traditional Khmer message the following day after checking out the facilities and the message packages that they offered. Once that was out of the day, we returned to our room to turn in for the night since we had a full schedule for the following day.

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