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Past Tours

Vietnam and Cambodia 2011
Kenya and Tanzania 2010
Egypt and Jordan 2010
UK and Northern France 2010
Turkey and Greece 2010
Italy and Sicily 2010
Egypt 09
Canada 09
Egypt 08
Italy 08
Vietnam 08
Egypt 07














Vietnam and Cambodia 2011

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Siem Reap, Cambodia

After a short flight of only 45 minutes we arrived at Siem Reap airport and after only a few minutes had our visas issued and were on our way to the hotel. We were greeted by Visal our guide and our driver and transferred to our hotel the Apsara Holiday Hotel. It is a lovely hotel with beautiful timber beams and interesting statues outside. As most of our rooms were not ready we decided to have a quick cuppa by the pool and then head out with our guide for the first part of our tour. In our 20 seater bus, 5 of us enjoyed a very interesting afternoon. Cambodia was noticeably different from Vietnam from the get go. There are only about 800,000 people in Siem Reap compared to 8 million in Saigon and nowhere near the 4 million motor cycles here that Saigon has either. The people dress differently and have darker skin. Our first tour in Cambodia was to Tonle Sap Lake one of the largest freshwater lakes in Asia. In the dry season it covers about 2,500km2 and in the wet season swells to 12,000km2 from waters coming down river from the Mekong. Today’s tour was quite fascinating to see all the people who live and work on or around the lake and the basic and sometimes nomadic lifestyles they lead.

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The fish from the river can feed the whole population of Cambodia which is almost 15 million and they also export to Thailand. There are many species of fish in the lake and the fishing is regulated to allow the fish to breed at certain times of the year. About 5,000 people live on the water in the Chong Khneas floating village which has most of the facilities of any small village such as shops, a mechanic, nail technician,

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school, water filtration plant and a floating basketball court. We stopped out in the middle of the lake on a floating café and climbed up on the roof to get a

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better view of the village. I cannot imagine living there like they do but they seem to have everything around them that they need and nothing appears to be wasted. Many of the dwellings are made from recycled materials and although it is a very impoverished area, some of the houses have beautiful gardens with flowers and herbs and vegetables and there are even pigs and chooks floating in their own little floating barns! Our guide Visal told us before we arrived not to give any money to the beggars and in particular to the children as if they earn $5 a day from begging they don’t go to school as they don’t see the benefit of going to school if they can get money for nothing. It is really hard not to give them money but you have to just close off to it and know that it is for the best not to encourage them to beg. Visal told us

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his story which was a very sad story. He was born in 1981 and at the age of 13 his father went off to war and although he went missing in action for about 2 years came home. Visal told us of how his mother would not let him and his brothers go to school for fear of them being taken by the soldiers and forced to bear arms however they did walk the 3kms each way each day to and from school. The officials would not allow kids to attend school if they didn’t have a uniform so Visal would go to school in the morning and wear the white uniform shirt and his brother would go in the afternoon and wear the same shirt. Visal was confused then about how the way you dress could affect your ability to obtain an education and now is very involved with improving the lives of Cambodian children and in particular orphans and street kids. He is involved in a small home for these kids and on the way back from the lake showed us the place and was very proud of the fact that they have recently put a new roof corrugated iron roof on the building. It costs as little as US$43 a year to cover school supplies and uniforms for a child for a year in Cambodia and yet many families cannot afford to send their kids to school. This is a problem in many developing countries and it is only with the help of young people like Visal that there is change. We were so moved by this young mans’ quest that we decided to help out by covering the cost for 2 children for a year and look forward to hearing about their progress in the coming months. Visal goes out into the villages and looks for a child or children that he sees potential in and that he may be able to help improve both the child and the families position and takes great pride in knowing that he has helped families become self-sufficient and have a better life.

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What an amazing day we had today. After entering the South Gate at Angkor Thom, we started the day with an elephant ride around the temple. Next we walked around Bayon Temple where Visal pointed out the beautiful stories that are carved into the stone.

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There are intricate pictures of animals and people depicting all kinds of events in the history of Cambodia including the war between the Cambodians and the Cham. Some beautiful pictures too of the Apsara dancers which are the ones with the beautiful long fingers who stand on one leg and have the beautiful high headdress.

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The next temple complex that we visited was Rajavihara or Ta Prohm as it is known in modern times. The “royal temple” was built in the late 12th and early 13th Century by King Jayavarman VII to be used as a monastery and university and to honour his family and was once home to 12,500 people including 18 high priests and 615 dancers.

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This is the temple in which the film “Lara Croft,Tomb Raider” was filmed in 2001. The silk cotton trees have overgrown the temple but as their roots are soft they don’t destroy the buildings but add to its character.

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One of the benefits of going to sites such as this with a good guide is that they will show you things that you

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might otherwise miss such as the hidden face of the Apsara dancer in the roots of a tree in an out of the way place like the one in the photo above.

The temple’s main image was modelled on the King’s mother and represents wisdom. The complex consists of several enclosures with a central sanctuary. The trees growing out of the ruins and the jungle surroundings make you feel like you are in another world and is a photographers paradise. This is a beautiful temple and it wasn’t on our original itinerary but our guide added it and we were so glad that he did. I will definitely include it in future tours.

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On our way to Ta Prohm we stopped for a while to walk along the Elephant Terrace and Terrace of the Leper King. The 350m long Elephant terrace was used by the king as a platform to view his victorious army when they returned from battle. The Elephant Terrace is named for the carvings of the elephants on the eastern face. The Terrace of the Leper King is the modern name for the structure and was named this when a 15th century sculpture discovered at the site

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was covered in moss that resembled a person with leprosy and also because it fit in with the Cambodian legend of an Angkorian king who had leprosy.

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The final site we visited was the Temple of Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious building and a UNESCO World Heritage listed site. Angkor Wat means “City Temple” and Wat is the Khmer word for

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temple. It was built for the king Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his state temple and capital city.

The temple has become a symbol for Cambodia and appears on the national flag. The whole Angkor site covers an area of some 400 km2 and you can get a one, two, three or six day pass at the entrance that you will need to have your photo taken to obtain. I think you could spend a month of Sundays there and never see everything there is to see.

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There was one last treat in store for us before we left the Angkor Complex and that was the balloon ride high up above the ground on the tethered balloon. It is located 1km west of Angkor Wat so you get a birds eye view of the temple complex including the huge moat that surrounds it. Well worth the US$15 that it costs. We had fantastic visibility and got some amazing photos.

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We had a wonderful time in Cambodia and to finish off our trip we enjoyed a traditional Khmer show including Apsara dancers and other traditional performers. A fitting end to a perfect tour.

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Photo: Halong Bay

"Halong Bay"


Photo: Tonle Lake Floating Village

"Tonle Lake Floating Village"

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