Bek and Steff's
China Challenge
2 - 14 Dec 06

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Final days/daze

Bek, Marty and Steff are now back in Australia - despite nearly missing our flight out of Siam Reap!!

Somehow all of us thought we were flying out at about 4pm so we'd planned our last day in Cambodia carefully, to fit in all the last minute shopping, eating and drinking etc... Over breakfast at 7:30am we thought we'd better confirm what time we were leaving - lucky we did because we were on a flight at 10:30am!! We rearranged the taxi, Bek and I dashed into the markets on a moto to do what was now very last minute shopping and upon our return, we managed to pack all our purchases over the month into our backpacks in under half an hour - we made it to the airport with time to spare but with the adrenaline pumping!!

I think it is also necessary to "un-tarnish" Battambang's reputation - 7 hours on a boat had taken its toll when we wrote our posting!

Click on photo to see more of Battambang

While the city itself really isn't much to look out, the surrounding countryside is a completely different story! A motorcycle journey through countryside dotted with rice paddies, farms, caves and temple ruins changed our mind considerably! Our drivers too helped to change our view - fantastic English, very informative and a lot of fun!

Unfortunately we had to return to Siam Reap the way we had left it - via the long boat journey but this time round it didn't seem so bad! Our last night was spent at the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) enjoying cocktails....

More photos will be added to this site over the next few days, but in the meantime, feel free to check out other Challengers' photos...

Monday, December 19, 2005

Boats, bikes and Battambang

Or Battam-boring, or Battam-bum and any other alternative names we think suit this place. Marty's suggestion was great too but unpublishable! We're taking suggestions, so feel free to comment. The best one wins a suitably Cambodian prize...

To help, here's a description of recent events...

We had fun (not) on the 7 hour boat ride it took to get here this morning. This is a distance of approximately 300km from Siam Reap and we're not talking about taking the Manly ferry here either. As they say, the things that don't kill you will only make you stronger - and it's lucky we made it to the boat as the "bus" (which was actually a 4WD truck) to the boat that arrived at our hotel to collect us already had 12 people in and their backpacks. Steff was reclining gracefully (albeit fearfully) on top of the bags while Marty and Bek held on for dear life over the bumpy road.

So, today hasn't been a great transport day but tomorrow we get to hoon around the countryside on motorbikes with hopefully English speaking drivers.

For a bit of a re-cap, here is what we have been up to lately (yes, we know we have been very slack in updating you all on our adventures and if so many of you hadn't been to Cambodia and seen all the internet cafes everywhere we might have even got away with it...)

Sihanoukville - beautiful national park, enjoyed a swim at a secluded beach, meals by the sea and Bek and Steff appear not to have the bird flu and have recovered

Click on photos to see more of Sihanoukville

Phnom Penh - Royal Palace and silver pagoda were spectacular (but a frightening use of public resources in a country where so many have so little), great food (we swanked it up at the Foreign Correspondents Club and unselfishly ate and drank lots at a fabulous local restaurant called "Friends" which supports and trains local street kids), Khmer cooking course (so, if we get lost when we get back, look for us at the Asian markets trying to find some weird herb/spice called galangal - our teacher was gorgeous and an inspiration in terms of what she had been through and providing a reminder of what is really important in life).

So now we enjoy the next couple of days and return to Sydney on the 23rd December and if we haven't spent all our money at the markets or swanking it up at the FCC (in Siam Reap) we might just try to post again...

Hope you're all loving the endless and tiring Christmas carols which we have been saved from because the Khmer people are mostly Buddhists. For those of you going on leave and away from your emails - wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and we'll see you in the New Year (or at Steff's on Boxing Day - please RSVP!)

Bek and Steff (and Marty of course!)

Sunday, December 11, 2005

News from Kampot...

About to leave for Sihanoukville after an awesome time here in Kampot.

Yesterday we explored the Bokor National Park, including some interesting abandoned buildings (that were used by the Khmer Rouge in their fight against the Vietnamese), a beautiful waterfall, some great hiking and spectacular views over the water to the islands of Vietnam. Speaking of water - it would be great to have a shower with some water pressure (and consistent hot water) given that there is so much water around and we earned a washable tan yesterday sitting in the back of a 4WD for 4 hours!

We also found out yesterday that pale skinned women are more valuable in terms of dowries, so Marty has a crazy idea that we'll sell Bek when we get short of drinking money!! That also explains why so many Khmer women cover themselves in long-sleeved shirts and gloves in this heat, and there is skin-whitening lotion for sale (but not Hair Conditioner funnily enough!)

We're looking forward to our trip to Sihanoukville this afternoon, given that we have been assured there will be only five of us (including the driver) in the car... as opposed to the seven of us who were squeezed into the Toyota Camry that took us from Phnom Penh to Kampot the other day. The three of us crammed into the back seat after signing to our Khmer speaking driver that four people (one of them being Marty) would not fit in the back seat. We were then slightly surprised when the fourth Khmer hopped into the front seat next to the driver...

Sihanoukville will be fun and looking forward to some quality beach time. If we can drag ourselves off the beach, we'll post again soon.

Steff and Bek

- just to note that the posts are a collaborative effort by Bek and Steff and we haven't censored, really.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Cambodia Update 2 - The Challenge ends...

After a fantastic final riding day out to Bantay Sray (one of the outlying Angkor temples) yesterday (and a late night to celebrate), today we finished the Oxfam Challenge part of our
trip. But, the story doesn't end is the first day of Bek, Steff and Marty's excellent
Cambodia adventure!

So now the lazy fun begins. After a lovely, local planning dinner at a Khmer restaurant (and a few stouts forced on us by our guest house host) we have planned a vague itinerary for the next two weeks.

Two more nights here in Siem Reap (Angkor Wat - the temples, and Angkor What? - the bar) and then down south to Kampot (more temples, caves and a beautiful national park).
From there it is a short trip to the beach resort town of Sihanoukville where we plan to do little more than explore the islands, read some books, snorkel and lie on the beach. And then a beer or two to celebrate Steff's birthday! (and yes, Bek does drink beer now...well, at least if it's Khmer beer and offered by our hosts!)

We will then head back up to Phnom Penh to do a cooking course, check out the sights of the capital that we missed last week (and a bit more shopping which is fantastic and already our bags are kinda full) and then back up to Siem Reap to fly back home.

Of course, we will fill you in on the details as they happen - til next time...

Friday, December 02, 2005

Cambodia Update 1

Today was our first off after 4 days of riding through Vietnam and now Cambodia. We're here in Phnom Penh, enjoying our first hot showers of the trip! Wow! So much has happened so, here is a brief update!

Day 1 - Saigon
Markets, cyclo tour, visit to War Remnants Museum (which really affected us all), "pho bo" (Steff's new favourite lunch), but not much sleep due to the noisy bar downstairs, which we had nothing to do with...

Day 2 - leaving Saigon to Tay Ninh
First riding day, via the Cu Chi tunnels. 60km in the heat and humidity didn't kill us.

Day 3 - Tay Ninh to Cambodia
Crossed the border on our bikes - what a way for Bek to celebrate her birthday, but the gastro that hit Bek and Steff was probably not the birthday present she expected! We all fell in love with Cambodia (also known as Kampuchea) and the Khmer people.

Day 4 - still in Cambodia!
More riding, more happy kids waving and high fiving us from the road. We love the giggles that erupt when we try to speak to them in Khmer!

Day 5 - Kampong Cham to Phnom Penh
More riding - but highlight was playing soccer with the local kids (and the look on their faces when we gave them the soccer ball which cost a huge US$2). Kampng Cham is on the Mekong River which we followed (all but the last crazy 50km) to Phnom Penh, along the bumpiest and dustiest roads so far. Again, we were the novelty of the week for the kids but we don't know who gets a bigger kick out of all the waving and "hellos", us or the kids.

Day 6 - TODAY - Takeo Oxfam Project
More about this later, but it was amazing to see the work that Oxfam is doing, establishing a rice bank, educating the community about domestic violence and HIV/AIDS, and setting up a micro loan scheme for the women to establish textile industries. The money we've raised is being put to really good use and so much more is needed!!

We also love Phnom Penh, although havne't seen much of it yet - we'll be back after the Challenge.

Tomorrow we're going to the Killing Fields for sobering trip - that is after we survive dinner tonight... last night we enjoyed (no, really, it tastes great) frog and dove after having sampled local snails for lunch (no wonder we've had a bit of gastro!). After the Killings Fields, apparently we're having garlic spiders for lunch, then onto Siam Riep to explore the amazing Angkor Wat temples.

Having an awesome time and we promise we'll try to post more regularly from now on.

Stay tuned for more news from Cambodia...

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