Cambodia and Vietnam are fantastic places, really very friendly and beautiful. I found them to be much more chilled than Kenya, cities especially. Ho Chi Minh is on the cusp of modernisation, though currently quite ramshackle. Phnom Penh is colonial splendor and Buddhist architecture. Out of the cities, both countries are lush and very flat (at least in the southern areas, the Mekong etc).
The hard work cycling from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh then down to Kirirom national park was over surprisingly soon. It was hard hot work, but the challenge was excellently well organised with regular stops breaking it down into manageable chunks.
After the cycling, it was lovely to visit an Oxfam-funded community project doing forest management, ecotourism, etc. We met the people, saw their work, and they asked for our ideas. It was extremely interesting. It’s easy to think that western charities are just wallpapering over problems, but this project had become an integral part of the community of a few thousand people, improving livelihoods directly through jobs and indirectly through things like resource management (rice, forests, etc).
Sadly Louise dislocated her knee in a surprising and unfortunate accident, really just walking through a car park. She needed to be taken to a clinic for attention, but was soon able to walk on crutches. She has been in a lot of pain though and unable to do many of the things we had planned.
Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and Angkor Thom are just amazing structures. Far superior to any other ancient stuff I’ve seen, though my record isn’t the most complete (no pyramids, no Taj Mahal, no Great Wall). It was a bit of a shame to run around them (all three in one day, no time for any of the tens of others). Ta Prohm (the one with the trees growing over the walls) especially was an exercise in capturing as many photons as possible before legging it. IMHO Angkor Wat does deserve it’s greater familiarity over the other temples, it’s just incredible. Photos soon (I have 1Gb of images).
At the end of our time in Cambodia our guide talked to us about the Khmer Rouge. He had himself grown up in a children’s commune and lost his parents to Pol Pot’s regime. The discussion made me realise that almost every Cambodia of our age or above must have been terribly affected by the four years of genocide. Cambodia’s future still hangs in the balance. Angkor provides a huge opportunity, you have only to look at the sparkling Siem Reap airport to see that Cambodians are rising to the challenge, but there is still much rot in the political system and our guide could not rule out future violence.
Returning, we had a five hour layover in Kuala Lumpur. KL is kind of like an entire city made out of the same stuff as Canary Wharf, though much more bustling. It’s very shiny and new. We didn’t have time to dig deeper unfortunately, but we were able to get off the plane, through immigration, on to the train, into town, transfer on the tube equivalent, look around a little bit, have supper, get the LRT and train back, back through check-in and immigration in under four hours. Louise’s wheelchair did help things though.
Louise’s knee was a shame, but she fought through it and keep going, unfortunately though worries about her exact condition meant we weren’t really going to be able to relax in the way we’d wanted and coming home seemed more sensible. Believe me we fought it while it looked like just coming home to go to hospital, but without our personal physician (the group doctor became our doctor) and the group to keep spirits up, a week in Siem Reap looked increasingly like hard work. We went to the local A&E today and got everything checked out, we’re both happy to be back and not too sad.
The group we were with came from a range of backgrounds, but really there were just lots and lots of really great people. I’ve come away with 35+ email addresses. The whole experience was immense fun, seeing places, meeting people, a lot crammed into a tight schedule, and we’re exhausted at the end.