From Laos Into Cambodia

I just saw an entire family on a motorbike. All six of them. And the children weren’t small. Impressive.

I’ve been feeling a bit like Indiana Jones this past week: exploring temples, wearing a sweet wide brimmed hat, kicking ass… The temples of Angkor are absolutely amazing. I like to run my hands over the intricate carvings and wonder at the hands that created this over a millenium ago. This intricacy combined with the sheet magnitude of the temple complexes kind of blows my mind. I swear I’m going to set off a trap by pushing in the wrong rock one day. Oh well, I could think of worse ways than an epic escape scene from a big boulder. Who am I kidding, I could outrun it.

So the last time I checked in here I was about to march off into the jungle to live in a treehouse for a while. Turns out there were some roommates: 4 other (awesome) guys (I feel pretty lucky that we got a group that got along so well, we had some great times together), two friendly guides, a few tree rats, and lots of spiders. The gibbons kept their distance from the house but we always heard them in the morning. Early one morning one of the guides broke the rules and took us trekking in wild jungle in the rain. We were looking for a group he’d spotted in the distance from the treehouse. We found them (damn he’s good) and got really close (like 10 meters!). What well adapted animals, the way they move through the canopy is amazing to watch. Our jungle days went a little like this:
-wake up early to gibbon calls or Mick’s “You have to see this guys. Anyone want to go zipping in the mists?”
-a cup of tea watching the mists roll over the endless valleys (the treehouse we picked was a little more rustic and small than the others, but the view was unparalelled)
-trekking and ziplining through the jungle
-lunch with the group of girls in a neighbouring treehouse a few km away. That’s right, we had to stop acting like boys for an hour each day! ( didn’t stop us)
-hammocking, reading, writing, and of course some more zipping in the afternoons
-wine, cards, and general shenanigans after dark

It was a good life. And what a cool project. They started the whole experience 7 years ago. The black gibbon was thought to be extinct but they found a family in the Bokeo jungle, so they made it a reserve. Then the big problem was poaching, and there being no one to enforce on the reserve. It’s not the greatest economy so that’s how the locals made money to take care of their families.

That’s where this project comes in. They took those poachers and gave them jobs as guides. I mean, who knows the jungle better? And now they make just as much as they would poaching in a year, but now the can do it year after year after year. With the money it brings in they also employ forest patrols to enforce the rules of the reserve. 7 years going and, by their steady expansion, I would call it a success.

Temples and monks is northern Laos, so some due time was giving into soaking all that up. From the alms that have become a tourist attraction in Luang Prabang to the lone painter painting in the corner of a tiny forgotten temple, trying to raise some money for its upkeep.

I’ve been on pretty much any sort of transport now that your mind can dream up, and I’m going to have to say that slow boat is probably my favourite. Two days journey down the Mekong was nice and relaxing.

I’ve made the decision to spend the remainder of my time Indonesia. Unfortunately some things I was looking forward to had to get cut (this time at least) but now I can focus on one place and get deeper into it. So the task of getting onto Java presented its ugly self.

Being so close to Cambodia, and being the huge temple nerd that I am, I just had to go out of my way and layover in Siem Reap for a week. A week feels so short for me right now. I met a couple from Australia on the plane who were only travelling for two weeks and were pretty envious of me. I hadn’t met anyone on the backpackers roads who was on a short timeline like that for a while…sometimes I forget how lucky I am.

Cambodia was short and sweet. Saw some traditional apsara dance and ate a lot of good Khmer food (and I had a pizza for the first time in ages!). Oh yeah, I saw some temples too.

I learned pretty quickly that it was good to look at the suggested tourist times and destinations…so you could avoid them at all costs. Sunset at Angkor Wat and Phnom Bakheng are wastes of time. There are so many other amazing temples that you can find your own amazing view somewhere else, and it will be peaceful and untainted by tourism.

The heat and dust was bit killer considering I was putting almost 100km on my bicycle some days. It was only going down to 28 at night…Let’s just say I was kicking myself for not springing for a guest house with AC. And the rains! My God does it ever come down heavy when it rains in Cambodia.

One of my earings got massaged out of its ear hole and the only earings they sell here are gauge 14/16… I haven’t decided if I’m going to let them grow in yet or just size down. Ugh.

Next stop: Yogyakarta, Indonesia