Chiang Mai

We flew into Chiang Mai from HCMC, via Bangkok, in another thankfully uneventful trip (aside from losing a necklace that had an imitation bullet on it at security…)! We were expecting to arrive to a slightly cooler climate in the mountainous north of Thailand, but no! The temperatures were still in the low 30s (centigrade) with occasional rain. We ended up staying here for almost three weeks, and could easily have spent longer.

Our first few nights were spent in a hostel in the north-east of the old town, close to where most of the backpacker action is. We ended up in a room with no air-conditioning, and sleep was elusive… So we decided to switch accommodation after our trip to the elephant park, and moved to a slightly quieter part of Chiang Mai, but still within the moat of the old town.

Now that we were less than one month from going home, it felt a little like Christmas – the kids were getting really excited about seeing their friends again, and had a day-by-day countdown: X days till we’re back in Scotland at granny and grandad’s house, X-8 days till Spain, X+3 days till we’re home and see grandma again, X+4 days till sleepover at friend’s house. And so on… I was also getting excited about seeing family and friends again, and sad that we won’t be travelling anymore. (At least not for the foreseeable future!)

As well as “going home” excitement, we also had a birthday to celebrate while here, as Sam turned 15. Connor and Alex had a fruitful hunt for a birthday cake (Western traditions are slowly being adopted here too), and we had some candles that had been carried here from Siem Reap! 

Chiang Mai is extremely laid back, but there’s still plenty to do here if you want it – yoga classes, finding yourself, various arts and crafts. I decided to use my time learning how to weave with a backstrap loom, while Alex and the boys took in a Thai cookery class. Expect to see weaving and Thai cooking in action back in Scotland!

Our second hotel had free bikes, so I was in my element scooting about around Chiang Mai, cycling to the weaving classes on the outskirts of town as well as to various other places that were just a little too far for me to enjoy walking to, especially in the heat. The bikes were “fixies”, so there was no way I was attempting any of the hills outside of the city! Gears definitely required for that kind of adventure. 

On my various travels, it was impossible not to take in take in a few temples – there are hunners of them here! We didn’t venture into any of them – there was more than enough to see from the outside, and we’ve seen enough on the rest of our travels to keep us going for the foreseeable future!

We did have a brief but intense love affair while here, with a very friendly, young golden labrador who lived at a fine drinking establishment around the corner. The allure of dog-plus-beer was too much… It’s just as well that we’re soon to see our own labrador – cuddles are long overdue! 

During our time in Chiang Mai, the King of Thailand died and the entire country went into mourning. Black and white sashes appeared outside of government buildings, people started wearing black and white, and the whole place quietened down – no loud music from bars or cafes, and many closed down for a few days. ATMs and shop tills displayed black-and-white messages of condolence, and billboards appeared lamenting the loss of the King. A sad time for this country, which ushers in a period of political uncertainty. We’re hoping that the transition is smooth.

Next stop: Bangkok, by train.

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Volunteering at an elephant sanctuary 

One of the things we really wanted to do in northern Thailand was to visit an elephant sanctuary. While travelling, we’ve become increasingly conscious of the ethics of our travel and “voluntourism” choices, following the “first, do no harm” principle. This means, for example, that we didn’t buy goods from street kids in Cambodia.  And it means no trips in baskets on the back of elephants. This was a tough one for our kids – after all, the basket rides look fun, elephants look strong, and everyone else is doing it. But we had done our research, and knew that elephant backs break under the half-tonne weights of basket-plus-rider, and that elephant “breaking” as part of their training can be brutal. But we still wanted to see these majestic creatures, so what to do? Well, we took ourselves off to an elephant sanctuary instead, when staying in Chiang Mai!

Set up by Lek Chailert’s “Save Elephant Foundation“, Elephant Nature Park rescues elephants that have been used for logging, basket rides, street begging or in circuses. Typically, these elephants have reached the end of their “useful” lives by the time they make it to the sanctuary. We saw a middle-aged elephant who had been blinded by years of exposure to circus lights, elephants with broken backs from baskets, and elephants with dislocated hips from logging. Scars from abuse with hooks and from chains were evident on all of them. At Elephant Nature Park, these animals are given a gentler life, where humans treat them with respect. There are a few young ‘uns in there too, rescued from street begging, or (unintentionally!) conceived on-site.

We spent two days and one night at the park, where we had the chance to see elephants in their mini-herds bathing in the river, playing in mud, or just hanging out. We met new arrivals who were still getting used to the idea of being there (it can take months for the elephants to trust their new mahouts). We made rice balls for the old dears with no teeth who can’t eat regular food. And we had the chance to “wash” (throw water over) muddy elephants in the river (though I reckon they did a much better job of washing themselves!). For us, this was a much better way to spend time with the elephants, and we would go back there in a heartbeat!

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Learning to weave with a backstrap loom 

Ever since my trip to the AVRIL shop in Kyoto, I’ve been fascinated with weaving. Actually, it’s been a longstanding infatuation, fed early on in our travel adventures by a trip to the weaver’s museum in Cusco, and any opportunity thereafter to visit/see/photograph(/buy…) examples of traditional weaving. I confess, it’s become something of an infatuation! Aside from having a go with a cardboard loom, though, my “on the road” weaving options have been limited. Until we hit Chiang Mai, that is!!

Here, I discovered Studio Naenna and their backstrap loom weaving course. The backstrap loom had been unknown to me before Peru, where it is a staple of the Andean natives. But it turns out that it’s a tradional weaving method across Asia too. And here I had a chance to learn it for myself, taught by women who had been weaving for over 25 years…

In the first two days, I designed the pattern I was going to weave, starched the warp threads (to strengthen them) then manually wound the warp and weft threads. The winding took the longest time! My design was simple: stripes in three colours of cotton – undyed (white), ebony-dyed (grey-brown) and indigo-dye (blue). I prefer irregular patterns, so the blocks were random in terms of colour order and width. Since I was starting out, all my threads were double-stranded, for extra strength!

On the third day, it was onto warping the loom – a complicated affair with a number of different sticks where the thread is wound around some, split across some, and wound around the entire thing in a continuous loop. And at the same time, an extra thread is run through the warp (a string heddle) to allow alternate threads to be lifted or dropped when doing the actual weaving. It took around three hours to finish warping the loom, under careful instruction from my very patient teacher, Seapay (whose name I may have completely misspelled here!!). Then it was onto weaving.

In backstrap loom weaving, the weaver’s body forms part of the loom. One end of the loom is fixed to something strong and fixed (in this case, steps on a wooden platform) and the other end is looped around the back of the weaver with a strap (hence “backstrap” loom). The weaver then uses their body to control tension in the warp when lifting alternate sets of threads and beating weft threads. It sounds complicated, but is a simple rhythm to get into. Getting fast is another matter! It took me another two days to complete my circular warp…

After finishing off the weave, here’s what the final product looked like. I was well chuffed!

And I bought the leftover threads so I can have another go when we get home. Anyone with spare wooden broom handles or some bamboo, give me a shout because I’ll be making my own loom 🙂

Who knows… I may make it back there sometime to learn some more complicated weaves with the pretty silk threads!

 

Vietnam: HCMC – no more, no less

We’ve been choosing (mostly) to visit countries with a visa waiver programme in place with the UK, in order to avoid additional expense. Earlier in our round-the-world adventure, we thought we were going to miss out on visiting Vietnam due to changes in visa requirements for UK citizens, but a reinstatement of the UK-Vietnam free 15-day tourist visa meant that Vietnam went back onto our list of countries to visit, at just around the time that we were finalising the last of our travel plans.

From advance reading on government and embassy websites, it was clear that we needed to fly into Vietnam to take advantage of the free 15-day tourist visa. This was something of a disappointment, as we had hoped to cross overland from Cambodia into Vietnam. But no big disaster; flights were duly booked when we did the “last big spend” in August in Thailand.

[Note to any potential UK citizen travellers reading this: (1) It’s really easy to get a Vietnamese visa when you’re in Cambodia – much easier than doing it back home (unless you live in London), so overland crossings between Cambodia and Vietnam (or by boat on the Mekong from Phnom Penh to HCMC) are straightforward. But you do need a “non-free” visa. (2) You can also apply for a longer visa when you arrive at international airports in Vietnam, prior to passport control – if you can get an airline to let you board in whatever your country of departure is! Just remember to bring a couple of passport photos, and cash to pay for the visa.]

We flew from Sihanoukville into Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), as it’s been know as officially since 1975, or Saigon, as it’s still referred to by the locals. We had booked into a hostel in Saigon for the first week, with no fixed plans for that week or the next. The only activities we knew we wanted to do were a cruise on the Mekong Delta and a to see the Cu Chi tunnels. We were flying out of HCMC again after two weeks, so had no intention of venturing further north in Vietnam (this time).

After a short flight with Angkor Air on their new direct route between Sihanoukville (surely the smallest international airport ever!) and HCMC, we were here. Visas and onward transport were thankfully super-straightforward. (We took a taxi – there is an airport bus, but for four of us it was just as cheap in a taxi. And the visa process in HCMC was eased considerably by the airport attendant who let me print out our onward flight details at Sihanoukville airport after I forget to save copies onto my phone – what a star!!)

By the time we arrived in HCMC, Alex was exhausted (as evidenced by increasing grumpiness!!). It soon became apparent that he was suffering from a viral infection – swollen lymph glands, sore joints and muscles, blinding headache, fatigue, loss of appetite. We suspect – given how much the mozzies were munching on him in Sihanoukville – that he had picked up some mosquito-transmitted tropical disease. Dengue, perhaps? It certainly wasn’t airborne, as none of the rest of us came down with it, despite being in a family room. It took around 10 days before he was mobile again, which meant that (a) we spent all our time in Vietnam in HCMC and (b) we didn’t do too much “guidebook stuff”!

What did we do? Well the boys and I did manage a day trip on a bit of the Mekong Delta, did a fair bit of wandering (and learned how to navigate HCMC traffic!), and went to see a water puppet show; and the four of us made it to the Cu Chi tunnels!!! I drank lots of Vietnamese coffee (yum!!), had a trip to the Museum of Fine Art, and bought some Vietnamese silk. And then some more. And then more again… 😂 And I completed a few more pieces for the travel blanket.


Museum of Fine Art

This museum is housed within an old French colonial building, and was a short walk from our hostel. I took myself off their one afternoon, and had an interesting wander through lots of war art, some modern art, and historical ceramics.

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Aside from the artworks, I was ever-so-slightly distracted by the array of beautiful floor tiles…

 

Mekong Delta day trip

The boys and I took a day tour to the Mekong Delta, arranged through our hostel. We were picked up at 8am for a two hour minivan trip south from HCMC, by way of some big Buddhas, before boarding a passenger boat for a shirt trip around some of the islands, named after the four sacred animals – Dragon, Unicorn, Tortoise and Phoenix.

The boats on the Mekong are structurally really similar to those we saw in Cambodia, but are all decorated with one intriguing detail – “eyes” looking down into the water. We were told the eyes were there to scare off river monsters (there are river monsters?!?) but there are a few other reasons they might be there too. Whatever the reason, they’re a fantastic sight! (Did you see what I did there…?? 😂)

On the islands, we saw how coconut sweets are made, heard some traditional Vietnamese music, and had a short trip in a pony and trap. And then, the highlight of the day – paddling along a section of water in a wooden canoe. I could have done this all day!!

We finished off with lunch, where we tried a local delicacy – elephant ear fish. It tastes similar to sea bass, and isn’t nearly as “muddy” tasting as the colour of the Mekong’s water would suggest!

Overall, it was fun day out, but I think a longer trip is needed to really appreciate the amazing eco-system of the Mekong Delta. (That journey from Phnom Penh to HCMC by boat would have been perfect…).


Water puppet show

Connor came across the water puppet show when looking for something fun to do for kids in HCMC. It’s an award-winning show that recreates Vietnamese myths and village scenes of old, with live narration (in Vietnamese) and music. The show lasted around 40 minutes, with separate stories like, “the King visits the village”, “boat race” and “unicorns playing with a ball”. We saw old men in boats smoking opium pipes, fire-breathing dragons, ladies dancing in unison and synchronised fish swimming! We were amazed by the technical skill of the puppeteers and the detail of the puppets. Even though we didn’t get all the jokes made by the narrator, we were still able to understand what was happening in each story.


Cu Chi tunnels 

Another trip arranged via our hostel, to the Cu Chi tunnels, which were used by the local population to hide out (and live in) during the French colonial and American Wars. The visit was largely limited to overground – the tunnels themselves are too small for most Western bodies!! Plus, there were lots of rather vicious booby traps set throughout them… There was one section that has been enlarged for visitors to go through, but even that was claustrophobic and we only made it along the first 20 metres before escaping. The visit was interesting, though we were surprised by the very strong anti-American bias in interpretation of events – if we hadn’t asked, we would have been left thinking that the tunnels were built specifically for the “American War”, when they were actually in use long before then.

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Rules of the road

This was perhaps the biggest culture shock for us – crossing roads. It’s something that everyone who visits here talks about. There’s just one way to do: step out into a flow of traffic and keep walking. Everything that we taught the boys (and we’re ourselves taught) was thrown out of the window! There’s rarely a clear run across busy roads, and drivers won’t stop for pedestrians who are waiting patiently at the side of the road.

The boys took to this like ducks to water – I think teenagers love the power of stepping out into oncoming traffic and have the traffic stop or slow and weave around you! And that belief in their own immortality helps… We had to keep reminding them not to do this when we get back home!!! Us adults were a little more wary – years of conditioning, I suspect.

Oh, and scooters are not just for the road – riders regularly drive down pavements to bypass traffic jams, becoming yet one more obstacle for pedestrians to dodge as they walk…

Driving and walking take on something of an artform at roundabouts, where pedestrians, bikes, scooters, cars, vans and buses weave in and out among each other. If they only gave out coloured smoke trails like the Red Arrows, it would be beautiful 😀.

 

Vietnam is definitely on the list of places to go back to – I’d love to do a cycling tour here, north to south, and see much more of the country. Next time…

Next stop: Chiang Mai, Thailand

Made in SE Asia

Work on the travel memory blanket continues in fits and starts (much like these blog posts, ha ha!). After a flurry of activity the last time we were in Thailand, and then not doing very much in Cambodia, I’ve powered through some more pieces in Vietnam and back in Thailand for the second time.

Cambodia-inspired:

  • Knitted Cambodian flag (a pre-requisite now!), made in Vietnam.
  • Knitted faces from the Bayon, in profile – six balls of wool floating about from row to row. Aaaargh! They look a bit meaner than the real ones, and I’m hoping their faces “soften” a little once they’re encapsulated in the blanket! Made in Cambodia.
  • A crocheted square onto which I cross-stitched a typical boat seen on the Tonle Sap, curves and all. Made in Vietnam.
  • A knitted Sun Bear, from our trip to be bear-keepers for the day. He got a red background to remind us of the enrichment toys we made for the bears to play with 😀. Made in Thailand!
  • Knitted “pile of skulls”, in memory of our trip to the killing fields and those who perished there. This was made using handspun alpaca wool bought in Ecuador, which is really fuzzy – I love the eerie quality it gives the “eyes” looking out, which perfectly captures how it felt to look into the “eyes” of the skulls left behind at the killing sites. Made in Cambodia.

Vietnam-inspired (all made in Vietnam):

  • Crocheted Vietnam flag.
  • Knitted floor tile, inspired by a visit to the art museum (a faded old French colonial building)…
  • …And a picture from the museum that I loved – I thought it looked like a cartoon face on first glance, but up close it was a knife, apple and beer mug on a table 😀. Note to self to identify the artist…
  • Knitted portion of the Mekong Delta. X marks the spot where we spent the day!
  • Woven circle, inspired by the crazy way that traffic weaves around the busy roundabout that was close to our hostel. (This acquired 3D properties when I tied off the warp, so will either be appliquéd onto the blanket, or turned into a brooch.)

Northern Thailand-inspired (made in Thailand):

  • No flag here, since it was done when we were in Phuket!
  • A knitted elephant, inspired by a traditional weaving pattern and modified to show the broken back of the elephants we volunteered with here. This “pink elephant” is done in hemp wool, made and dyed in Thailand.
  • A knitted dragon, as seen protecting the temple closest to our hotel, with the first appearance of the “going home” ball of wall gifted by a friend before we left.

While in Cambodia, I also finished off a knitted bird, replicating(ish) a picture that was in our room in Kyoto (another nightmare of floating threads from many balls of wool that ended up looking fabby), and crocheted a mini US flag.

And, lastly for the blanket: made in Thailand using the same threads from my backstrap loom weaving class, to reflect the fact that we’re heading home in a couple of weeks, a crocheted granny-square Saltire.

Still on the “to do” list for the memory blanket:

  • The Mexico flag (I know – still!!)
  • The EU flag (sobs…). This one’s a work in progress – 12 crocheted stars await applique.
  • Spanish flag (once we get there).
  • A line of marching ants! I’m planning to do a long strip for one of the edges so this one will have to wait till the assembly stage, once I have a better idea of how long the line of ants needs to be.

As well as working on pieces for the memory blanket, I’ve been playing about with a few other things too while in Thailand. My favourite are the mother and baby elephant pair, crocheted using wool from Japan, with a rear view! I’m going to mount these as a picture when we get home. And, no – they’re not nipple tassles, despite what my teenage boys tell you…! 😂

I also had a go at some fingerless mittens too, crocheted using alpaca wool from Peru (same colour used for bordering the poncho) plus purple Thai hemp thread. This turned into an exercise in “how much does your tension vary day to day”!! Crochet tension, of course… The two mittens are noticably different in size (though the pictures here hide it well!!)

And I tried out a new crochet stitch (bullion – gotta love a good YouTube tutorial!) and freestyle crochet, using the Thai hemp threads. I’m not in love with the finished product (not shown), but the process was fun!!

And, to top it all off: backstrap loom weaving, which has a post all of its own!!

Phnom Penh, and the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge 

We arrived in Phnom Penh in darkness and rain, after an interesting bus trip from Battambang, where our “reserved seats” on the bus were conceptual rather than actual, and the luggage compartment was the gangway… Still – it only cost $6 each for a five-hour journey, so we can’t complain too much! After some haggling with a pair of tuk-tuk drivers at the bus stop in Phnom Penh (who, unlike Mr Mong in Siem Reap, were unable to load four people plus luggage into a single tuk-tuk!), we made it to our newest home in the BKK1 area.

We had planned to stay for five nights in Phnom Penh, but ended up extending our stay as the hostel was lovely and in a great location, and – most importantly – because we really needed to not be moving on every few days. By this stage, we were definitely feeling a bit worn down from being constantly on the go…

Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia (another capital city to add to the list!). It sits on the confluence between the Tonle Sap (last heard of on our most recent boat trip) and the Mekong River, and is often described as something of a frontier town. I think that very much depends on where you stay: we were in something of an “upmarket” area, favoured by expats, NGOs and embassies, so definitely didn’t get the sense of a frontier town there. But the recent troubled history of Cambodia is still apparent, physically, when you start to wander around.

Brief history lesson: Having been the “Pearl of Asia” during the French colonial reign in Indochina, Phnom Penh was all but emptied of its 2-3 million inhabitants in April 1975 as the Khmer Rouge swept through the city, sending everyone off out the countryside in pursuit of their agrarian communist policies. It was only re-occupied again once the Khmer Rouge were overthrow in 1979, in something of a free-for-all (which has led to all sorts of problems over building ownership). In the meantime, many institutions had been destroyed or re-purposed. (No citations – feel free to confirm through your own research 😉).

Phnom Penh was something of a history lesson for us, as it was our base for visiting the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge at Choeung Ek and the genocide museum, S21. It was also our base for being bear keepers for a day, touring Cambodian architecture, and a chance to see traditional Kun Khmer boxing (and get on the telly!). But here, I’ll stick to the tough stuff. For lighter reading, check out the other posts.

The Genocide Museum – S21

This former school was turned into a jail plus torture rooms by the Khmer Rouge, and has since been preserved as a museum. The torture rooms have had a good scrub since the 1980s, but the bloodstains remain ingrained on the tiled floors. The beds that victims were shackled to are still there, along with photographs of the broken victims who were left behind when the city was liberated. It’s a horrific place to visit, but a necessary reminder of the evils that human beings are capable of inflicting on one another when idealism goes unchecked and institutional paranoia sets in. The fact that all this happened during my lifetime, and that it was inflicted on families and communities by their own people was sobering. One hopes – in the internet age – for greater transparency, accountability of government and global awareness of human rights abuses, but we’re not there yet.

Choeung Ek Killing Fields

These fields on the outskirts of Phnom Penh are where many inmates of S21 were transported to meet their end. It’s now a memorial to those who died there. We visited here the morning after S21 – I’m not sure we could have coped with both on the same day, especially with the boys there. Even writing about this a few weeks after visiting, I struggle to describe this place. Some mass graves have been exhumed, and the skulls and long bones placed into a purpose-built memorial building. Here, you can see the different wounds sustained by the victims – blows from hammers, shovels, agricultural instruments, even table legs. Out in the field, small bones were re-buried. These often – together with fabric remnants – resurface after rains, and can be seen as you walk around. When we arrived, a nearby restaurant had music blaring from massive speakers, which felt completely out of place – major cognitive dissonance – until we learned that loud music was played here to disguise the sobs and screams of the soon-to-be-dead. The most sickening part of the visit was the killing tree, against which small children’s heads were swung, and where brain matter was still present when the site was discovered. As far as the Khmer Rouge were concerned, evil had to be removed at the root, which meant children of “enemies” were killed too. We all struggled with what we learned that day, and it will stay with us forever. As it should.

I said earlier that the physical evidence of the Khmer Rouge reign can still be found in Phnom Penh and elsewhere in Cambodia. The most surprising – and uplifting – discovery of our trip here was seeing how the Cambodian people are dealing with the after-effects of this brutality in their day-to-day lives. It’s a humbling lesson in healing.

The lighter side of Phnom Penh

So the Khmer Rouge stuff was tough for all of us, but we’re really glad we did it. Our adventures in Phnom Penh didn’t end there, though!


Architecture tour – Bassac Riverfront

I took a walking tour of the Bassac Riverfront development with KA Architecture Tours. This is a company set up by students of the architecture school to showcase the different types of architecture around Phnom Penh, including French colonial, 1960s Khmer, religious and public. They came highly recommended by someone I spoke to when we were in Battambang, so off I toddled early one Sunday morning.

The tour took in a number of buildings designed by Vann Molyvann, a former pupil of Le Corbusier, who oversaw a project to develop the Bassac riverfront region of Phnom Penh. The tour took in the Chaktomuk Conference Hall, a former exhibition hall (now split between a shop and kite museum!), the site of the National Theatre (demolished in 2008 after falling into disrepair) and the former Gray Building. The iconic Gray Building was built in 1963 to house athletes for Olympic Games that never took place. A jagged and beautiful building at the time of construction, it has now been made nondescript by developers more interested in maximising the number of apartments than preserving this piece of Cambodia’s architectural heritage.

The highlight of the tour was a visit to the White Building, designed by Cambodian architect Lu Ban Hap and Russian Vladimir Bodiansky, and built in 1963 as an experiment in social housing for low- and middle-income families. This building is still occupied by a hugely diverse group of tenants/owners, but has fallen into a state of disrepair, hastened by nearby development works. The sense of community in the White Building is palpable, aided by the aspirational murals painted around stairwells of the futures imagined by the children who call this place home. Sadly, the occupants here face the threat of forcible eviction to make way for developers, as has already happened for another nearby building, and the opportunity to visit this piece of Cambodia’s architectural heritage may not be around for much longer. Get there while you can!

The haphazard approach towards the upkeep of these national treasures and the treatment of communities for the sake of developers is shameful, but not surprising in a country where serious corruption is rife.

(And this is supposed to be the “lighter” post about Phnom Penh!!! Moving swiftly on…)


Kun Khmer boxing

Phnom Penh’s best tuk-tuk driver, Sopheap, told us about the traditional Kun Khmer boxing matches that take place regularly at television studios around the city. Entrance is free, because the organisers like to have an audience, and tourists get “VIP seats” in an area behind the sponsors and beside the stage where the boxers make their entrance. During our time in Phnom Penh, a “Cambodia vs Thailand” headline bout was scheduled to take place – how could we miss it??

Cambodians claim that the origins of Muay Thai fighting (now famously associated with Thailand – the clue’s in the name…!) lie in traditional Kun Khmer boxing, examples of which can be seen in some of the 12th Century bas reliefs at the Angkor temples. So this was a grudge match!! In name, anyway…

Musical accompaniment is provided during each round of boxing by musicians playing drums and flutes, with gangster rap pumped out between rounds (during the adverts on TV), which is a bit surreal!! The local crowd really gets into the boxing, and the atmosphere is electric. By the time of the main bout, the noise from the home support was immense, and the place erupted when the Cambodian won by knockout!!! If you’re into boxing, it’s an ace night out. And you might even spot yourself on the telly… We did!


What else?

Well – most importantly (!) – I managed to finally get myself a haircut! Simple as it should have been, no female hairdresser would touch my head in Siem Reap or Battambang – they couldn’t comprehend a female wanting her head shaved!! So in Phnom Penh, I found myself a boy’s barber who would do it for me. Problem solved, happy Lynne!

We also attended the 2nd birthday party for our hostel, with staff (past and present) plus the South Korean/ Australian owners and members of their Australian church. There was an amazing spread of traditional Khmer foods, birthday cake and balloons! We had very full bellies by the end, and had learned a little about the mission work schooling underprivileged kids undertaken by the charity that runs the hostel. In exchange for those kids’ souls, one assumes, but I didn’t ask…

After Phnom Penh, we spent a week in Sihanoukville on the south coast to finish off the Cambodia installment of our adventure. Sadly, and annoyingly, we didn’t manage to visit the islands there due to inclement weather, so there’s no separate blog post (it rained loads, we spent a lot of time in our hostel). From there, we flew to Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) in Vietnam, to visit the final “new” country on our round (some of)-the-world adventure.