A Bowen Abroad

Travelling the World is a horizons-broadening, tastbud-tingling, photo-grabbing, (occasionally) constitution-testing, and overall enjoyable experience. Unfortunately you need the time and the money to do it, and rarely do both occur at once. When I scrape together enough of one to balance the other I pack my bags. Here are my tales.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Cambodia pictures now online!

After much slide-scanning, cropping, dust-busting and print-optimising (perfectionist photographer y'see), part 1 of my photos are online: Cambodia and the temples at Angkor.

I've also gone back and posted pictures of Kemoran and his mighty steed and the evening at the Colonel's.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

And the winner is...

Thanks for all the entries to the caption competition. You brought many a smile to this gurning pig-faced northerner's face (and shed some light on what you really think of me). A tough decision to make, but in the end there can be only one winner. So the fabulous prize goes to...

ba-rrrudddllle (that's a drum roll btw)

...the subltley surreal wit of Mr Phil Oakley. The prize will be in the post.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Bye-bye Bangkok

Another stroke of luck coming back from Siem Riep yesterday. I met two Norwegians at my Guesthouse who were up for sharing the cab fare with me, which meant we had a speedy and (relatively) comfortable trip to the border, rather than bouncing along on the slower tourist bus. Once at the border we met an American ex-pat who turned out to be a bit of a character. 61 years old with boundless energy and a hyperactive brain he’d developed some interesting ideas and some way out there ideas. My original aim of catching some sleep on the bus back was quashed as he bent my ear for the full four hour journey on topics as diverse as astrology, computer hacking, nutrition and the future of society - plus some novel conspiracy theories about drugs, AIDS and the US government.

Today has been a lazy day, spent mostly at the local mall last minute shopping, having lunch and watching a movie. Por asked me earlier if I wanted to do anything but in addition to being wiped out after Cambodia I think that after all I’ve seen, done, eaten and drank in the last four weeks I’m “full to the brim” with Asia.

So that’s about it from Bangkok. Off to the airport tomorrow, back home to develop the nine rolls of film I’ve shot and to digest my Asian experiences!

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Cheerio Cambodia

Yesterday I spent a third day looking at some more of the ancient Angkorian ruins, this time a bit closer to home. Plenty of photogenic scenes of trees grasping crumbling buildings in their roots at Preak Khan. Finishing my three days’ temple spotting with a memorable view of the pyramidal Bakong, silhouetted against the sun breaking through a brooding rain cloud.

Wandering around the temples hasn’t all been sun and roses however. There is the inevitable chorus that strikes up from the stall vendors whenever you enter or leave a site – “Sir, sir! You buy cold drink?”, “You want guide book”, “You buy silk scarf from me”. And there have been some sobering reminders that Cambodia is still recovering from many years’ civil war and that there are many who are poor: land mine victims playing traditional music in small bands; very young children selling trinkets or offering to be “tour guides”.

I topped off my round of Indiana Jones exploration with a very good, and slightly unusual meal. The Cambodian dish Lok Luck came as cubed beef in a tasty gravy with a peppery side sauce served with rice. But also on the plate with the beef was a portion of big, fat home-made chips topped with a fried egg! Yum.

In order for a change from temple-spotting, I went down to see the floating villages on the lake a few kilometers south of Siem Riep. Again speeding along on the back of Kemoran’s shiny green moped. On the way Kemoran was telling me of the raw deal he thought many Cambodians had at the lakeside, losing out on all the best moorings and fishing spots to immigrant Vietnamese. Although I found it difficult to see much difference between the ways the Vietnamese and Cambodians lived. Both seemed to scrape a very modest existence from their ramshackle, floating homes.

Out on the open water the lake was vast. Until I spotted a few local kids scudding along in nothing more than round tin bathtubs with one oar. They belt along at great speed between all the tourist boats, hands out for loose change. On the way back up the river to the landing area, we got stuck in a “boat jam”. A couple of the larger house boats were being towed upstream, and we got stuck in a melee of bobbing, bashing and spluttering boats trying to fight their way around in the wide stretches.

It’s remarkable how your pillion skills improve after a few days in the saddle. The first time I was clutching the handles with whitened knuckles, four days later and I’m stretching, scratching and generally chilling out on the back. The journeys are far from humdrum too. Cambodian mopeds never seem to have rear view mirrors, instead relying on a complex conversation of beeps between the drivers to work out where everyone is. I remember zipping along between the temples when another bike passed us with two European girls sat on the back. As they passed, one girl gave me a great big cheesy grin – the camaraderie of frontier pillion passengers.

My last night in Cambodia today, then it’s up early tomorrow for a shaky bus ride to the border and on to Bangkok.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Kemoran and his mighty steed

Friday, July 08, 2005

Angkor Wow

Another dispatch from Cambodia. I’m sat in a weeny internet café near my guesthouse somewhat saddle-sore after over 100 kilometers on the back of a scooter traveling over bumpy roads to see some of the more remote temples. I’ve been swapping language lessons with my driver Kemoren. Some extra English vocabulary from me, and introductory Khmer from him. I even had a chance to practise on an unsuspecting old guy whose house we’d sheltered under from the rain.

The temples are simply awesome. Although every one is impressive, I’ve tended to prefer the less obvious attractions – finding hidden temple ruins crumbling in the shadowy forest rather than ploughing through the throngs swarming around the big names such as Angkor Wat. I won’t try and describe everything, and my words probably couldn’t do justice, so a just few highlights: wandering around the Bayon in baking heat with hundreds of stone faces sleepily smiling down at me; the ruined Ta Prohm overwhelmed by the jungle, trees sprouting up from the buildings; the fabulous, delicate carvings covering the red stone walls of Banteay Srei; stone faces peering from under the water at the long stretch of carved river bed at Kbal Spen; the shear vastness of Angkor Wat, and the moment stepping through the outer wall to be confronted by that famous picture postcard view.

A curious fact about Cambodia – the bread here is great. I ordered scrambles eggs for breakfast yesterday expecting it to come with the perfectly square, tasteless sliced bread usually encountered in Asia but was surprised to get a fresh (still warm) baguette! A legacy of the French governance I think.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Bangkok to Siem Riep

I'd been reading some dire warnings about the various shady characters, scams and hardships facing those making the overland journey from Thailand into Cambodia. So it was with a sense of trepidation I left Bangkok on a bus bound for the border yesterday. Armed with plenty of research and copious notes I bid a fond farewell to Luc at the Northern Bus Station from where he was off to the airport and home. However my concerns all turned out to be in vain, I think I must have had the jammiest border crossing ever – including an overnight stay courtesy of the Thai army (sort of)...

An hour of so into the bus journey a smartly dressed older guy came and sat next to me. We nodded hello and after a while we got talking – "Where you from?", "England", "Ah! Tony Blair.". Colonel Boonsom turned out to be a very amiable chap with a long and interesting career in the Thai army (now retired) - the last twenty years of which he spent at the border. Arriving at the border town of Aranyaprathet he invited me to lunch, which we were chauffered to by his good friend Captain Pokkrong (a.k.a. "Pong"). The roadside restaurant was run by the Colonel's wife and the lunch invitation soon became an invitation to stay over with them rather than at a hotel as I'd planned. I then spent the afternoon and evening enjoying the spontaneous hospitality of these charming and generous people. Chilling out with the Colonel watching Thai boxing on TV; accompanying him on his daily exercise walks around the neighborhood, seeing the sights and shooting the breeze; not to mention all the home comforts including three sizable meals! I also met Captain Pong's wife, a high school English teacher who was eager to practice conversation with me, and his two young, excitable and curious (of me) children. As we all sat on the floor in the Colonel's living room, munching on fresh fruit and chatting I realized this was one of those unexpected and golden traveling moments.

A grand night in (left to right: Captain Pong, Mrs Pong (and little uns), me, the Colonel, Madame Colonel, the Pong's maid).

After another constitutional and breakfast with the Colonel this morning he took me the few kilometers to the border on the back of his scooter. I was expecting a bit of a struggle finding a taxi and agreeing a reasonable fare on the other side but this too didn't occur. I got chatting to a Dutch couple waiting in line at the border. They were on a package tour that included a taxi to Siem Riep and their agent offered me a ride with them for $10 (less than half price)!

So after a four hour rollercoaster of a journey along Cambodia's red, pot-holed roads here I am in Siem Riep. I've had my first taste of Khmer (Cambodian) cuisine (a fragrant spicy salad including an unidentified, but palatable mystery meat – possibly chicken gizzards?) and tomorrow I've arranged a motorcycle guide to take me to the temples at Angkor.