Monthly Recap: Month 8

We are feeling strangely nostalgic for many of the places we have already visited on this trip. It’s not that the places we are exploring now aren’t wonderful, but it is because we feel the year slipping away from us already. Here we are on month 8, much closer to the end of the trip than we are to the beginning. It’s hard for us to imagine coming back to our real lives! But enough about the future, let’s talk about the present (well… past really) and think about our highlights of month 8!

Here are our stats for this month.

Countries visited:  3 (Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos) *Countries slept in: 4 Add Singapore to the prior list.

*Countries looked at: 1 (We watched sunset over Thailand, viewing it across the Mekong River from Vientiane)

Beds Slept In: 12 (This is a little higher than it could be. There were a few places, Phnom Penh and Siem Reip, where we switched hotels in the middle of our stay, and it counts one night back in Phnom Penh before our flight to Laos. *Chairs Slept In:  1 (See above about Singapore airport)

UNESCO Heritage Sights Visited: 3 (Cultural Landscape of the Bali Province, Angkor, Town of Luang Prabang) Total on RTW: 37

We traveled by 3 planes this month.

We traveled 5 long distance buses/minibuses.

Top Moments:

~ We really enjoyed meeting up with an old college friend in Bali at the beginning of the month. It was great to reminisce about some college times as well as talk about future travel! There were many great moments, but one of the highlights was experiencing a birthday party for the temple in the small town we were staying in near Ubud. It was just great to be able to witness this and the evening culminated with Eric dancing onstage!

~ We had heard about the evening aerobics in Phnom Penh, but kept not making it work to go for the first few days we were there. We finally made it on our final night and it was such a wonderful time! It is hard to explain how both peaceful and exhilarating it was to see so many people getting together to exercise. There were people of all ages doing all sorts of activities. Our favorite of which was dancing, of course! We met some really nice people who welcomed us into their evening tradition. It was topped off by a lovely sunset as well. Hard to beat!

IMG_5156

IMG_5159

Runners Up for Top Moments:

~ We didn’t know exactly what to expect from Battambang, a town in Cambodia. Most people just hit Siem Riep and Phnom Penh and move on. We had just a little bit more time so headed to Battambang on our way to the temples at Angkor. We stayed a few nights and had a wonderful time in this less bustling, less touristy city. One of our favorite memories from there was to see the Phare Circus. The performers were delightful, both funny and talented. It was a lot of fun!

IMG_7182

IMG_7192

~ As most people say, a trip to southeast Asia wouldn’t be complete with a visit to the famous temples at Angkor. We spent 3 days there and saw a lot of amazing temples. We enjoyed several of them, but one of our favorite moments was actually at the tail end of the second day. We had a long hot day on our ebikes, seeing several different temples. We were on our way home while the sun started to set. We rode through one of the famous complexes called Angkor Thom where we glimpsed some of the most famous temples for the first time. We headed out the south gate with the many faces, and had to immediately pause for the glorious sunset over the river/moat. We took some pictures and then continued on the ebikes where we rode past at got our very first glimpse of the most iconic temple of them all, Angkor Wat, before zipping on home. It sounds a bit anticlimactic but it was really one of our favorite times of the visit.

IMG_7745

IMG_7756

 

Items Missing, Broken, Discarded, or Added:

Discarded/Broken:

  1. Della’s sunglasses broke. They had broken twice before and she had managed to repair them with super glue… and then monkey tape. But they finally bit it and died.

Added:

  1. New sunglasses for Della
  2. New sunscreen
  3. New deodorant
  4. New laundry soap
  5. New shoelaces for Eric
  6. New lotion for Della
  7. New multivitamins

Packing Update:

We are currently quite happy with the contents of our bags. After our repacking at home, we are feeling pretty good about what we have. We both are carrying some more cold weather gear which we haven’t used at all since being in Asia, but we still think we might need it for Nepal and it is comforting to know we have it.

Books Read: (Have you read any of these??)

Della has read Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling (4), 1984 by George Orwell (4), UnWholly by Neal Shusterman (3), Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind (3), No Birds Sing by Jo Bannister (3)

Eric has read The Blind Assassin by Margarat Atwood (3.5), Titus Groan by Mervin Peake (2.5), Gormenghast by Mervin Peake (3), Titus Alone by Mervin Peake (1)

Eric and Della have BOTH read nothing this month.

The rating system is for Della’s mom who is refusing to look at Goodreads. It is 1 to 5, 5 being the highest.

Make sure to catch up on all our monthly recaps: Monthly Recap 1, Monthly Recap 2, Monthly Recap 3,Monthly Recap 4, Monthly Recap 5, Monthly Recap 6, Monthly Recap 7

 

 

 

Backflips, Buildings, and Bats in Battambang, Cambodia

After our stop in Phnom Penh, we headed out to the city of Battambang. This certainly isn’t an undiscovered place – there were plenty of other tourists around, and it’s actually the second-largest city in the country – but compared to Phnom Penh and later Siem Reap, it felt a lot less crowded and much more laid back. We enjoyed a couple of days seeing the sights and enjoying the relaxed vibe of this ex-French Colonial city.

Getting There

We booked a seat on what we thought was a bus through our hostel in Phnom Penh. But, just like in Myanmar, it turned out to be a minivan. This one was a lot nicer though, with padded leather seats and a lot more legroom. It even had a large screen TV that played music for the first half of the journey and then showed Fast and the Furious 6 for the second half (the sound was too low for us to hear most of the dialog, but based on the action we aren’t sure we missed much). The highway was in pretty bad shape at times, and the driver was pretty aggressive in passing, so the ride wasn’t the smoothest, but we got there in one piece.

Where We Stayed

The cheapest accommodation we could find online with decent reviews actually turned out to be more like a hotel than the guesthouses or hotels we have been used to. Our room in the Emerald BB Hotel had a nice king-sized bed, a tv, big bathroom, and even a balcony… although there was no furniture to sit out on and enjoy it with.

What We Did

Tour Colonial-Era Architecture – When Cambodia was a French colony, Battambang was one of the French provincial capitals, and they set out to improve the city’s infrastructure with many buildings and new streets. Many of these influences can still be seen today. We downloaded some free PDFs from the Khmer Architecture Tours website that allowed us to do a self-guided walking tour of some of the best examples. The most iconic structure is the “shophouse,” which is a two-story building with businesses on the ground floor and residential above, with a balcony for the residential forming a covering for the sidewalk in front of the business. There is a large stretch of these buildings in the downtown core. We also thought the central market, an Art-Deco style structure, was impressive.

Hang Out by the River – We had read that there were aerobics classes in Battambang similar to the ones we found in Phnom Penh, so around sunset we walked around the park areas on either side of the river. We never found the classes, but we did enjoy watching the kids playing on the playground and the adults using the exercise equipment scattered around. The most fascinating attraction was a small path made of stones set on edge that people would walk over barefoot. Maybe to build up strength in their feet? Certainly not something we ever saw in a park back home.

The Circus at Phare Ponleu Seplak – The most famous attraction in Battambang is the nightly circus performance at this local arts school for disadvantaged youth. One of the arts the students can train in is circus arts, and they put on a circus show for tourists starring the students and some professionals. We found the show to be very entertaining. It didn’t have any of the circus animals; instead, a group of six male performers did a wide variety of acrobatic stunts, from simple clown tricks to high-flying jumps. The whole performance was backed by music from some of the music students of the school. The show was only an hour long, but we were on the edge of our seats the whole time.

Screening of the film The Killing Fields – After our visit to the Khmer Rouge sites in Phnom Penh, we wanted to learn more about that dark time. We had heard that the film called The Killing Fields was a good resource but we weren’t sure how to watch it. Then we saw that one guesthouses in town showed it nightly in their private movie room. We headed over there one night and watched the film, which we felt did a pretty good job of adding more information to what we already knew.

Tuk-Tuk Tour of Surrounding Sights – Our second day in Battambang, we hired a tuk-tuk driver to take us around to some of the different sights we had read about outside of town. (A tuk—tuk is a carriage that is drawn behind a motorbike).

Our first stop was the Bamboo Train. The French left a series of rail lines through the countryside, but they are no longer used for trains that you would normally think of. Rather, they are traversed by the locals using bamboo rafts on top of two rail axles, powered by a small motor. Traditionally, farmers would use these as a shared taxi to ferry goods around, but it has turned into a large tourist attraction (we only saw tourists riding). The most fun part is seeing what happens when two trains meet on the single track. There is no way around, so instead one train has to be completely dismantled and placed on the side of the track so the other train can pass!

On our way to the next stop, we took a quick break for a wine tasting at Cambodia’s only winery, Prasat Phnom Banan Winery. The guidebook warned that the wine was not very good, and unfortunately we had to agree. We tasted their “red,” a grape juice, and a ginger juice. The wine smelled ok but the aftertaste was a bit strange.

We then headed to Phnom Banan, where we climbed 385 steps straight up the hill to the ancient temple of Prasat Banan. The temple was built around the same time as the temples of Angkor, and definitely shares some similarities, including the layout of the five towers. They aren’t in great shape, but we enjoyed wandering through them anyway.

Our final stop was the area around Phnom Sampeau, where we sampled a few different attractions. Our driver couldn’t take us up the hill, so again we had to walk up. The first stop on the way up was the Killing Cave, a cave with a natural opening in the roof through which the Khmer Rouge threw their victims to kill them. A small memorial with the bones found in the cave still remains. At the top of the hill are multiple Buddhist temples. We relaxed up here and enjoyed the view, being careful to give the monkeys a wide berth. After we walked down the hill, we waited at the base for sunset, when a giant line of bats emerged from a cave in the side of the hill. This went on forever, and we even stopped on the way back into town and could see the undulating line of bats making its way over the countryside.

Where We Ate

Battambang has a nice selection of cafes in the main downtown district. We visited two of the highly-recommended ones: Jaan Bai and Lotus Café. The most interesting thing we got at Jaan Bai was fancy cocktails. Della got the house specialty called “The Crocodile” which seemed to have everything but the kitchen sink in it! At the Lotus Café, Eric got a traditional Cambodian dish called “lok lak,” which is basically just chunks of stir-fried beef. We also had some very good spring rolls here.

There is also a nice Night Market in Battambang by the river. One area of the market has some small food stalls which serve up some cheap meals. We were able to get noodle curry bowls for $1.50 each, and it was pretty tasty!

IMG_7275

Final Thoughts

The guidebooks say that there isn’t a lot to do in Battambang, but we were able to find plenty of diversions to occupy our few days there. We enjoyed both the sights we saw and just the vibe of this small city. Especially compared to some of the other places in Southeast Asia, Battambang was just the right amount of relaxing.