One of Laosâ€™s treasures which for the moment seems to be off the beaten path for large masses of tourists is Si Phan Don near the countryâ€™s southern border with Cambodia. We made the journey to Si Phan Don from Luang Prabang in the North by flying to Vientiane in the evening, staying overnight and flying from there to Pakse early the next morning. We then continued by bus to the main island of Don Khong. Our next destination was Siem Reap, Cambodia and, since I personally dislike backtracking while traveling, we wanted to find a way to cross the border and continue on by land or by river without taking the bus back to Pakse for the direct flight to Siem Reap.
New Yearâ€™s Eve 2008 was not only memorable, it was one of the best Iâ€™ve ever had! I was excited at the thought of counting down in one of the first time zones to lead the rest of the world into the New Year. For this street party in the center of town there were no barriers, no velvet ropes, no prohibitive cover charges, no limited space and little to no security (nor any apparent need). Tourists, expats and locals were all welcomed to come, dance and celebrate in the streets. Moving your body to the top dance hits of years past brought a feeling of nostalgia, almost a commemoration of all New Yearâ€™s Eves that have come before. Despite rich and ancient histories, countries in Asia show signs of greatness still to come. Their populations are increasingly dominated by young people, often under the age of 30. This energy is contagious for tourists of all ages as they dance in this fountain of youth, feeling even younger as another year passes. It was a joy to see all the faces of other Asians around me, of those visiting from neighboring countries and from around the continent. People from around the world danced together, united by a sense of unlimited freedom highlighted by the pulse of the music and the sparkle of bottle rockets illuminating their faces. For just one night I didnâ€™t need any excuse to smile, make eye contact and wish them a better year to come.
We decided late last night that we were ready to leave Siem Reap and continue on. Even though we didnâ€™t reserve a seat on the bus to Phnom Penh, we were able to leave this morning and get into the capital around 2pm. We found a wonderful guesthouse called BoddhiTree Del Gusto, located in a French villa and are going to stay here for one night.
Weâ€™ve been in Cambodia for four days and have seen a few villages, towns and cities. All of them reveal a picture of a very poor country with a tragic past. Driving on dirt roads we often see children, farmers and animals that are all very thin, in the west weâ€™d send them to a doctor immediately. Our tuk-tuk driver in Siem Reap, Tei, was telling us about the hard life of the Cambodian farmers who struggle to make a living and provide for their families who are often very big. In addition to the impoverished, we also see many people who have been wounded by landmines and are missing limbs, eyes or have burns or different parts of their bodies. Cambodiaâ€™s past is staring at us not only when we visit the landmine museum.
Happy New Year! Our first day touring the temples of Angkor has been packed with incredibly beautiful ruins. We started at Ta Prohm and were taken away by the beauty of the gigantic roots enveloping the ruins. We continued to Angkor Thom right after passing through two small temples. We toured Angkor Thom until lunch. After a great lunch in a little alley in the city, we went to see Angkor Wat and stayed there to watch the sunset. Kevin got a Buddhist monk haircut and we joined the New Yearâ€™s street party for some dancing and good time here in Siem Reap. It was definitely the coolest New Yearâ€™s scene weâ€™ve ever been to!
After getting very little sleep last night we exited the bus and grabbed a coffee before being picked up by another bus on the way to Siem Reap, Cambodia. The journey lasted no less than 30 hours and weâ€™ve just now arrived in Siem Reap. After trying some recommended hotels that were fully-booked we finally found a hotel for the next few nights. We also secured a tuk-tuk driver to take us around to Angkor Wat and other sites tomorrow and the next day. Weâ€™ve just finished our first real meal since breakfast at the guesthouse back in Laos and it was damn good!
Woke up very early this morning to pack our bags, eat breakfast at the guesthouse, settle our bill (Reasonable! $32 for 2 days of lodging, meals, laundry and bicycle rental), say goodbye to our hosts and take the familyâ€™s boat to the port town of Ban Nakasang. We then took a series of mini-buses and air-conditioned buses to cross into Cambodia on our way to Siem Reap. The journey included breakdowns of two different buses and ended up with the passengers doing an in-bus, roadside sleepover 50km north of Phnom Penh.