Monday, 16 May 2016

321 ADVENTURE THRU THAILAND, LAOS AND CAMBODIA (4-16 January 2016), Day 9 - Travelling from Stung Treng to Siem Reap

When the going gets tough, hop onto a van!
Potty break at a petrol kiosk near Preah Vihear
Keeping the coffee warm, Stung Treng market
Farming tools at Stung Treng hardware shop
"Tikam" something like raffle tickets
Stung Treng market
Post Office in Siem Reap
Claudine and VT sending postcards home to the boys
Street outside FCC
Street outside FCC
In the vicinity of Siem Reap's old market
In the vicinity of Siem Reap's old market

In the vicinity of Siem Reap's old market

Siem Reap market
Siem Reap market
Auberg Mont Royal
Auberg Mont Royal
Auberg Mont Royal
Auberg Mont Royal
Auberg Mont Royal

We were supposed to meet for breakfast much later but an hour before our rendezvous, Alvin started texting on the chatgroup. The early risers conspire on a sight-seeing tour around town. They met at the hotel's lobby promptly and walked out to a street filled with a kaleidoscope of colours.

Right across the street, on the footpath that runs along the river were peddlers. Most were selling fishes caught from the river below. Some were small but quite a few were the Pangasius catfish, native to the Mekong. These catfishes are sold in Malaysia as dory or sutchi fillets!

There were some vegetable sellers too. They spread out their locally grown vegetables on fly sheets which were then placed across the footpath.

The housewives here carry colorfully woven plastic baskets. Tight budget or not, they wisely haggle for a good bargain!

Leaving the river scene, the five early birds turned left, right after Golden River Hotel. At the corner street, petrol was being sold straight out from a barrel. They were dispensed into plastic containers through a hand pump.

The Five continued their walk along this road. There was a hardware shop that took up 4 shop lot spaces. Next to it was Canadian Bank Plc. Across the road, from the bank was an Indian restaurant!

Then, beyond that, the hive of activities began. It was the market place! The whole street was so dense with people, bicycles, pushcarts, motorcycles and traders. Almost everything was sold there!

We escaped the throng of people and turned right. Then, we entered the market square. A warm wave of air greeted us immediately. Canvas tarps were tied between roofs to keep out the sun and rain. The downside was it also keeps the heat in! Considering that it was early morning, we wondered how unbearably hot it will be by mid afternoon.

We walked through the poorly lit walkways to the center of the square. Stalls were busy dishing out food to the customers. Many were takeaways though the few who could bear the heat stayed to dine.

We decided to eat like the locals....

We tried pork porridge. The Howards were slightly amused to find congealed blood in it. They finished the porridge but left the blood behind!

We tried tao suan, a type of sweet lentil dessert, glazed with coconut cream and served with Yu tiau. Ian thoroughly enjoyed this.

VT tried some rice noodles served in hot and sour soup. Claudine disliked it but VT finished it anyway.

On our way out, Alvin packed some tao suan for his beloved Celia. We made another brief stop outside the market square for him to pack more food for Celia and also fried banana chips for the road.

This time, we walked back via Street 63, hit the insignificant roundabout, then turned into Street 4. An old petrol kiosk stood in the middle of the street but the pumps were no longer in use. Perhaps, running the pumps on electricity is costly, they have reverted to the traditional hand pumps.

On this same street, a most peculiar van caught our eye. The passenger seats inside had been removed. Instead, they were placed behind the van, on an extended metal bar and secured by ropes. It seems plants holds better value than human in Cambodia for in this case, the plants were placed in a more secure cargo space!!!

Back at the hotel, Alvin and Claudine disposed off VT, Anne and Ian. Instead, they collected the remaining team for breakfast. They brought them back to the market square. This time they opted to dine at the airier stalls outside. Everyone went for Vietnamese rice served with barbecued meat.

It seems, Stung Treng being one of the most remote areas in Cambodia, has strong French influences. Once governed by French Laos and later, French Protectorate, the French culture has rubbed off here. Most noticeable are the baguettes which are widely sold in all corners of the markets.

After breakfast, we returned to Golden River hotel and started packing. Alvin had arranged for 2 vans to take us to Siem Reap. The plusher Mercedes van was mainly used to transport "the couples". Another Made in China van was used to transport our bikes and our security officers ... Papa the mafia boss took the front passenger seat. Meanwhile, Frank, the hitman sat with KC, the advisor behind.

Back at Golden River hotel, KC had flicked out a box of chocolates. Days passed, the box he had been carrying with care since Day 1 was unceremoniously opened only to find the chocolates had melted and fused together! True to the story of Forest Gump, Life is like a Box of never know what you are gonna get!

The journey from Stung Treng to Siem Reap took about 5 hours. Thanks to a relatively new, non pot holed road, we survived the journey without feeling sick. This road passes by the Prear Vihear town though it is nowhere near the temple itself.

We had a 10 minute break at a petrol kiosk that also runs a mini mart. They provide toilets that needs some scrubbing though not smelly.

Prior to the new road, we were told the route goes south before coming back up again. This takes an additional hour. What is even worse is the route on NH7! It takes you through the east side of the Mekong, then passes Kampung Cham. This journey requires about 8 hours of your time, a doggy bag and some travel sickness pills!!!

Auberg Mont Royale was a welcome after 5 hours of travel. It was simply divine! Entering the hotel through the rod iron gates, the green lungs in the courtyard greeted us. We left the dusty, busy streets outside to a quaint little abode that we will call home for the next 2 days.

The room though not plush was comfy. We could appreciate the small little details, like rose petals thrown onto the bed covers. What happens within the bedroom walls though, is really up to everyone's imagination!

As we had skipped lunch, we quickly met again after throwing our bags into our room. Anne though managed to don a sundress, a white hat, makeup and a diamond ring for our high tea treat at the Foreign Correspondence Club!

Outside, we flagged 2 tuk-tuks so we could go in style.

The FCC is housed in the former residence of the French Governer. A colonial styled building , everything about the place spells old world charm. Thankfully, Alvin managed to secure us 2 tables on the balcony that overlooks the busy main street.

We were served sandwiches, scones, cakes and local fruits in a 3 tiered serving rack plus tea or coffee of our choice. The scones and sandwiches were considerably good. However, we were disappointed that they did not have second thoughts on serving bruised pineapples.

After a good tuck in, we left to walk the streets. We walked along the river then turned right to Central Market. Before long, everyone found their own little niche shops.

Quite a few bought pants, embroidered purses, t-shirts...

Colin was looking out for cat figurines...

Papa, Celia and Alvin found their spa for a good body rub...

We met again for dinner at the old markets. Alvin took us to his favorite restaurant, Nai Khmer Food. The crowd is crazy, their menu is extensive, their food reasonably delicious. Starting from USD2 per dish, it was a real steal!

After dinner, some of us walked to the night markets. KC tried ear candling. Some tried foot reflexology. Some continued shopping while some were just too tired and went back to Auberg for a royal time!

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