The airport shuttle

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It took a while to explain to my moto driver – “I go to station, to take a train, to the airport”. “Oh, we go to airport?”. “No, to station”. Etc. The airport shuttle is a new concept for Phnom Penh, so it took a bit of time for it to click with me too. You have to take a moto/ tuk tuk to the station, and then get the train to the airport??? Oh yes, now I remember, that’s how trains work.

But, a train! to the airport! free till July! Too tempting to resist. So, I went to meet my friend Donna arriving at the airport at 10am (didn’t want to risk the shuttle initially when actually catching a plane.

Too lazy to find the timetable so arrived good and early, found out the first train is at 8.30am. Pleasant wait in station with coffee and croissant from stand on site. Noticed the self checkin counters on site – wow, impressive and seemed to be working.

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Train arrived at 8.30. Passengers boarded by 8.31. We wait a further 10 minutes then departed. Then stopped and reversed a bit, than carried on at a leisurely pace.

 

The leisurely pace is understandable. The people living along the airport line are not happy about the service, and you can see why. There train is effectively running down the street, separated only by a narrow brickwork. This is single track, so we shunted most of the way (locomotive pushing from behind), with railway staff presumably warning the driver of hazards.

 

And indeed our journey was enlivened when we grazed a truck – full scale collision luckily averted by quick reactions of the rail crew, but we did scrape the truck’s paintwork. Much laughter and excitement for rail crew and passengers.

We hit this van!

We hit this van!

Passengers were thin on the ground – two older ladies, one man and his young son, no luggage – clearly sightseers like me. However they were talking enthusiastically about the train service and exchanging information about timetables. Carriage clean, comfortable and air conditioned. Staff outnumbered passengers, and they were also transporting a few supplies to the airport, cartons of bottled water etc.

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We arrived at the airport without further incident at 9.20 – 40 minutes travel time, 50 minutes from scheduled departure. As it’s a single shuttle, you could obviously wait a long time at the airport for train to the city (we chose to return by tuk tuk instead), but there is an air conditioned waiting room, and the airport itself is continuing to upgrade and now had brand new food court opposite the station, so you could wait in comfort.

Overall verdict: clean, enjoyable, comfortable, but currently long journey time – great option if you have time to spare, and want to avoid the traffic jams. Oh and free till July!!!

 

Bike4Kids at Angkor

IMG_6642It’s been a long while – but this weekend deserves a post. A typical Cambodian outing where nothing goes to the original plan but somehow we have a better time as a result. A good start when I fell off my bike even before we left the bike pick up point, and we got slightly lost riding back to the hotel in the dark with no lights.

On race day, Manell, Sitha and I set off at 5.30am, lovely ride through Angkor Wat complex at dawn, but missed the start of my event (17km) by a comfortable 40 minutes, so enjoyed the free breakfast then had to sneak onto the back of the 117km race with all the serious Lycra clad racing bikers.

Well we didn’t see those guys again after 500m, so enjoyed a relaxing spin through the Angkor park by ourselves with a few photo stops and selfies.

As the sun got up even one lap was seeming a bit much so we went off road, briefly joining a cycling tour group for a short cut through the forest then finding our own tracks till we rejoined the circuit again in time to finish in style!

We then magically met up with the rest of our party Pete and Tanmay who had made it for the 6am start and managed a respectable 2 laps, and joined then for celebratory coffee. A great fun day and lovely way to appreciate the beautiful Angkor complex from a different perspective.

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3 days in Siem Reap

img_5350Still catching up on the blog after Pat and Stuart’s visit last month!  So, after enjoying the laid back charm of Battambang, we got into full sightseeing mode in Siem Reap. Day 1 was temple day. We decided to visit three temples in depth rather than run round as many as possible. We chose Angkor Wat (of course), Bayon and Ta Prom, and spent a long time at each exploring and soaking up the atmosphere – each one very different, all amazing. Highlights: the wonderful bas reliefs at Angkor Wat and the feeling of spiritual calm at the top; getting lost in the maze-like corridors of Bayon and emerging to the music and colour of a Kathen procession; the late afternoon sun and shadows in the haunting ruins of Ta Prom.

On Day 2 we had a complete change of scene and pace with a trip to the “floating village” of Kompong Pluk. I had expected a village of boats, but in fact it’s a village of stilt houses on the Tonle Sap lake – so not in fact floating, more like a tropical version of Venice. Very charming and peaceful. and also a good way to appreciate the size of the lake and the flooded forests, particularly at this time of year at the end of the wet season.  I’m told this is a much nicer destination that Chong Keas, an actual boat village – so check the destination when you book a floating village tour.

On Day 3, Stuart opted for relaxing by the pool and a stroll round the town, but Pat and I were both game for another temple. We took a tuk tuk 30km to explore the enchanting Banteay Srey – possibly my favourite temple with its exquisite carvings and forest setting.

We then went on to Kbal Spean, which was a delight. A beautiful 2km walk through a forest (which was spotless with no litter – yes, it can be done in Cambodia) – a bit of a scramble in places, but worth it to see the unique carvings on the river bed.

Our time in Siem Reap coincided with the Water Festival, so in the afternoons and evenings we enjoyed watching the boat races and the carnival atmosphere, and found a great rooftop bar to watch the fireworks over cocktails. We also found some time to cool off by the lovely pool at  the Frangipani Villa Hotel. A perfect three days in fact.

International Day of Persons with Disabilities

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Wheelchair accessible tuk tuk

 

Today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, and Monday is International Volunteer Day. As a volunteer with PWDF it’s a good time for me to reflect and celebrate all my colleagues in Cambodia who are doing great work to bring about positive change for people with disabilities.

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PWDF Staff Workshop 2015

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Physiotherapy at Battambang PRC

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Mobile prosthetic/ orthotic workshop Siem Reap

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Graduation at the Cambodian School of Prosthetics and Orthotics

Festivals – Bon Om Touk and Kathen

The Water Festival in Cambodia (Bon Om Touk) in November marks the end of the wet season, the reversal of the flow of the Tonle Sap river and the full moon.

The big celebrations are in Phnom Penh, but there are festivities in other towns as well. We were in Siem Reap which was great – boat races, lights, fireworks, music, a great carnival atmosphere but pleasant to walk around without the enormous crowds in Phnom Penh.  In the evening people buy beautifully decorated candles and float them down the river – all the little lights on the water look truly magical.

We also stumbled on a Kathen festival outside Bayon temple at Angkor. Kathryn is celebrated once each year between October and November at every pagoda to present new robes to the monks to mark the end of the wet season and to raise money for the pagodas to support the local community. This was a lively, colourful procession with large puppet figures and loud music.

Battambang – town

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After our day in the countryside around Battambang, we spent the next day and a half enjoying the town. On Thursday evening we discovered Bric-a-Brac, an eclectic boutique, hotel, workshop, Burmese cookery school and bar, where the waiter serenaded us with traditional Khmer songs.

On Friday Pat and I did a Khmer cookery course at Nary kitchen.  We made – and ate – Khmer favourites fish amok and beef loc lac, spring rolls and a dessert of bananas, tapioca and coconut milk. Yum! A bargain at $10.

After this feast we went to the Phare Ponloeu Selpak circus. Fantastic!  Amazing, talented performers, full of energy and humour – utterly captivating.

On Saturday morning we walked off some of the calories exploring the town, taking in the French colonial architecture and riverside parks. And we still had some down time to relax by the pool at the lovely Sangker Villa before heading to Siem Reap in the afternoon.

Battambang – countryside

My tour with my sister Pat and her partner Stuart got off to flying start in Battambang. We packed a lot into our first day – starting with the Bamboo train (of course), then a tuk tuk tour with the lovely David in the countryside to the south of the town.

It is beautifully green and lush at this time of year, and everywhere in the villages people were fishing, trapping, planting, ploughing -or having a great time collecting mud crabs like these two kids – using methods that probably haven’t changed for years.

After visiting a fishing village, mushroom farm, dancing bridges, lots of village life and (unexpectedly) a winery, we ended up at Phnom Sampov to take in the stunning view and watch a million bats flying out of their cave at dusk.

Battambang PRC and wheelchair basketball team

Battambang is Cambodia’s biggest PRC, set up by the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1991 to serve the most heavily land-mined areas near the Thai border. It still sees about 40% of the total 27,000 clients served by Cambodia’s 11 PRCs.  I managed to fit in a visit while on holiday in Battambang with my sister and brother-in-law.

The facilities are impressive – large well equipped workshop and indoor and outdoor PT areas, airy dormitories which can accommodate up to 200 people, pleasant dining areas, well kept grounds and sporting facilities.

I was even lucky enough to see the Battambang ladies wheelchair basketball team having a practise session – these ladies were awesome!

Big Fish?

IMG_5048.JPGA nice discovery in Kampong Chhnang, but not sure it really counts as a “big thing”, as it’s in a fountain.  However, Kampong Chhnang made a lovely stop on the way to Battambang, with pretty riverside views and floating village, and a visit to the traditional hpotteries. These two ladies produce 40 of these pots a day, all by hand without even a potter’s wheel – they circle round the pot themselves instead.

Si Phan Dong (4000 Islands

Very relaxed! Staying on Dhon Khon island, one of the 4000 islands (but who’s counting).  Most people stay on either the larger Don Khon or the smaller Don Det – one consideration is that there is more to see on Dhon Khon, and it costs about $6 to cross the bridge between the two islands – that’s about 3 beers…

After two days lounging around by the river, we finally worked up the energy for a cycle round the island.  We cycled past rice paddies, fishing boats and buffaloes…

…impressive rapids…

…remains of the old French railway…

…and a glimpse of Cambodia over the Mekong…

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..Feel like we have earned a beer Lao now 🙂