Laos & Cambodia travel update – homeward bound

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The Laos and Cambodia groups have arrived safely back at Melbourne Airport. The bus departed the airport at about 11:30am so they are expected to be a bit late back to the College. Depending on traffic, the estimated arrival time is 12:20pm.

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Day 15….Royal Palace, Russian Market and Killing Fields!

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This morning we headed for the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh.  None of us expected the brilliant sight that spread before us.

Sumptuous buildings, gardens, statues and temples.  It was an amazing time wondering through the Throne Room, Museum, Silver Palace and Napoleon 111’s building.

Orphans, Spiders and Phnom Penh! Day 14

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Kampuchea House Orphanage

Temples with the staff and children at Kampuchea House

Mr J with new born orphan Lucky!

Orpanage House for 6 children and house mother.

Our usual early breakfasts then a 30 minute bus ride out to the Kampuchea House orphanage to visit with the children. This orphanage has been set up by an Australian teacher for children to have a full education and trade training.  23 children live there with six children living in separate houses with a house mother, they all go to school in the local village. The latest child was a new-born baby, Lucky, whose mother died in childbirth. We gave many presents, played games and had a handing over ceremony. We all loved the visit.

Georgia with a live spider....it was soon to be lunch!

Later we travelled on to Phnom Penh, stopping for lunch in Thom Kampong, the birth town of Pol Pot. Later we paused to see a market where they had live tarantula-like spiders as well as cooked ones.  Several of our group ate one to see what it tasted like……think black, fried spider, crunchy and like disgusting chicken!

Dinner in Phnom Penh Restaurant....even the boys didn't eat all the fantastic food!

The trip took just on 9 hours to complete but the scenery and village life were great to see. Our hotel is in the Tourist Centre with much nightlife, restaurants, tuk tuks and beggars. The weather is hot and humid.  Our dinner tonight was at a local restaurant serving Thai, Cambodian and Laos food….delicious but so much to eat!

It is an early night tonight for an 8:30am start tomorrow……………….the second last day of our fantastic, awesome trip.

Day 12/13 – On the Wing to Angkor Wat!

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Day 12 Luang Prabang to Siam Reap (Angkor Wat)

After a good nights sleep we had time for breakfast and a quick walk around town before we took the bus to the airport.  We had a quick customs and immigration clearance before we boarded our Air Laos flight to Siam Reap in Cambodia.  We stopped at a town on the way for about half an hour before flying on to Siam Reap.  It was very time-consuming filling in all the forms for immigration but we finally boarded our bus for the last of our three countries – Cambodia.  It looked so different to Laos with busier streets, more people, dust and heat.  Our hotel turned out to be a luxurious hotel/spa in the town centre.  Siam Reap has over a million people living here.  We all noticed the poor road conditions, lack of road rules and the poorer state of buildings and people.  The luxury hotels are numerous but contrast with the rest of the city.  A quick check-in and we had time to settle in and enjoy the wonderful pool and excellent service.  A lovely relaxing time after a heavy days travelling.

Temples sampling Cambodian bread with our guide Youssa.

Before dinner we took tuk tuks to the outer Siam Reap area where locals go for a picnic dinner and games.  Thousands of people and as many stall holders selling everything from BBQ snake, frogs, crickets, cockroaches, corn and boiled eggs with unhatched ducks.

Buying fried crickets to eat!

Eloise eating BBQ snake!

Surprisingly, many of us tried them.  Later we went to a Cambodian Restaurant for dinner and then walked back to our hotel.  I think we all slept well that night.

Day 13  Siam Reap and Angkor Wat

Today we visited the enormous area called Angkor Wat.  We had to have a photo taken and placed on our security pass to enter the complex.

Group shot at Angkor Wat

The first temple was the Preah Khan or maze temple.  It was a very large complex of outer wall and East and West Gates.  We spent a long time exploring the many parts and really enjoyed the towering steeples and elaborate stone work.  A miracle of building, the whole complex taking about 47 years to build and employed over a million workers. The moat alone took 6 years and over 6500 workers.

Angkor Wat

It was lunchtime and we had an Aussie picnic by a large gate in the jungle.

It was very exciting and the scenery outstanding.  Some even found bats in the old gate area.  Next we travelled to Ta Prohm or Jungle Temple.

Temples at the Jungle Temple.

Aussie lunch picnic at Angkor Wat!

It had been lost in the jungle for over 400 years before being rediscovered and is now being restored by the Japanese.  It’s claim to fame is that it was a location for one of Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider movies……..large figs resting on temples and surrounding building with their roots entwined in the structures.  This was a highlight of our visit.

Climbing through the Jungle Temple.....anyone spot Angelina?

After Angkor Wat we bussed down to Lake Tonie Sap to travel by boat out into the surrounding areas and look at the floating village people living on boats, pole houses, barges and bamboo shacks.

The Floating Village at Lake Tonle Sap.

They travel by boat everywhere and have shops and repair businesses along the waterways.  We visited a crocodile farm and had boat sales teenagers jumping on board from small power boats to sell drinks.

Young boy jumped from a speeding boat to sell us drinks!

It was an amazing experience for all, such poverty, but an amazing resilience and tenacity to move forward.  These people have come from Vietnam during the war and settled on the water. The lake is about 200 miles by 300 miles in area and goes up and down according to the seasons.  Tonight we dined in the tourist area on pizza Cambodian style and ice-cream from a street stall.  An early night tonight to do diaries and pack for our trip to Phnom Penh tomorrow.

Good night to all and love from the Temples.

What do Waterfalls, Bears and Markets have in common?

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Today we started our day at 6:00am to see the parade of the monks to collect food for the day. We had bought sticky rice bowls to give them. About 280 monks gathered in one long line and passed hundreds of villagers and tourists giving rice, money, lollies and fruit.

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Monks collect their daily food in Luang Prabang.

After this we walked down to the morning local market and saw all the produce the locals bought for their day. Fresh vegetables and fruit, meat, fish, rice and sweets were available. The local breakfast stalls sold soups, rice and noodle dishes and fancy breads. Live ducks and hens, frogs, birds and eels could be purchased freely.

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At the Morning Market!

We walked leisurely back to our Guest House for an 8:30 breakfast. Our morning activity was a visit to the waterfalls and river in the mountains behind Luang Prabang. On the way we visited the mountain race of Laos called Hmong. They are the only racial group that allows the husband to take more than one wife. The village was quite poorly built and was mainly made up of wooden houses built on the ground. There were many poorly dressed children wandering around trying to sell handicrafts of the village. They have only had fresh water for 5 years.

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Bathing in the Turquoise Water River

The waterfalls were magnificent. Three levels will bluish, white water cascading over rock ledges. We swam in the middle pool that turned out to be freezing, but it was nice to be cool! Later we walked back to the Asiatic Bear enclosure being run from Australia. Jane, the coordinator told us about how they save caged bears from being milked for their bile. It was fantastic to see the bears free from their cages and living a free, healthy life. Tonight is our last night in LP. We went to a traditional Laos restaurant and had wonderful Laos food. They also provided Laos traditional dances and songs. It was a terrific experience and we all loved it. A last-minute shop at the night market on the way home and then we packed for tomorrow’s flight to Siam Reap and Angkor Wat. It is all passing so quickly now! Love to all our mums and dads, brothers and sisters.

Day 10: Luang Pradang….What Wat was that?

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We have started our first full day in Luang Pradang with an el fresco style breakfast among beautiful flowers, sunny sky and a private enticing courtyard.  We are all raving about our luxurious rooms, hot water (well warm anyway) comfortable beds and interesting decor. We have a full half day programme this morning then an afternoon of exploring the shops, markets and the town. The teachers settled themselves on a cool balcony overlooking the street and took a quiet lunch. (Mr J speaking!)

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Novice Monks and the Temples on Mount Phu Si - The Spirit Mountain!

This photo shows us having scaled the dizzy heights of Mount Phu Si in the middle of Luang Prabang. (360+steps!).

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Our new friends!

The fantastic views of the city and river were overpowering. We met four initially shy novice monks at the top and we interviewed them through our tour guide Jan. We learned so much about their lifestyle, religion and themselves. One showed us his workbook in history……our students were horrified at the immaculate writing, set out and neatness. We really enjoyed their company.

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The Temples in front of the Royal Palace Museum

After this we walked down the side of the mountain and entered the Royal Palace Museum, a wonderful last century French-influenced building.  The furniture, clothing and artefacts of the era were displayed in various rooms.  We even found gifts from Harold Holt on his visit to the country in 1968, a boomerang and opal encrusted wood and gold boxes.

After the palace we headed for two beautiful and very old Temples.  Our guide explained the history and significance of each building and statue.  They were really quite beautiful.  We even saw the last kings funeral carriage.

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Luang Prabang Wat That Luang

We then headed into the outer areas of Luang Prabang for a visit to a paper making factory and a silk and cotton textile factory.  Many of us couldn’t resist buying another gift for home.

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Silk Weaving at Luang Prabang

The rest of the afternoon was free to do our own exploring. Many travelled around the town, some rode bikes to further parts and others caught up on some washing and sleep. Tonight we went to a local Pizza Parlour for a huge meal of delicious pizzas. 28 Pizzas disappeared in very little time!  We then walked down to the night market to test the patience of the stall holders. Our group have learned the very intricate procedure of battering. What a great day!

Missing you all……..

Day 9 Mekong Day 2 to Luang Prabang..then Laos-style Relaxing!

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We were up at 6:30 for our breakfast at 7:00am. A quick breakfast of toast, fruit, scrambled egg and tea/coffee. Bags to the boat and we were off for the last leg of our journey to Luang Prabang….9 hours. Again we relaxed with cards and games and, of course, diary catch-up.

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Relaxing and taking in the scenery!

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Mekong River Gamblers!

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The Daily Diary!

We can hardly wait to see the town we have read and heard so much about. On the journey we stopped at a cave temple named Pak Ou where hundreds of Buddha figures and sculptures have been placed in two large caves. It was amazing to see many hundreds of years of statues placed all around the cave. Higher up we went to the dark cave to see another altar and many, many statues. Of course there were another 260 steps to climb to get there…….yes and it was hot!

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Pak Ou Cave Temple on the Mekong.

We then returned to the boat for our last leg to Luang Prabang. We pulled into the usual dirt landing and off-loaded our bags and then walked to the hotel…..a really new, very clean and comfortable guesthouse. We quickly went to our rooms to freshen up and relax before going off for two hours discovering the local town. What a wonderful place. Great shops, restaurants, internet rooms and marvelous buildings that date back many years. There a very few cars and the people are quiet and friendly.

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Our Guest House in Luang Prabang

After this we went back to get changed for our dinner at a remarkably good restaurant with the usual excess of food. The group had time to catch up on gossip, bargains and future plans for the night market.

After dinner we headed to the night market in the main street. A collection of all kinds of stalls selling many very good and interesting things. After an hour we headed home for our well-earned rest and a nights sleep for tomorrow. More of Luang Prabang over the next two days.

Love to all our folks and friends.

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