Cycling to Angkor Wat

Cycling to Angkor Wat

Have you ever wondered what it feels like to cycle in one of the most beautiful places in the world? Well, it’s often easier to do then to think about it.

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Once in Cambodia, visiting Angkor Wat is a must. There are numerous travel agencies here offering all types of tours to Angkor with and without a guide. The cycling to Angkor Wat is very relaxed and you don’t need any particular training to do it. However, Angkor Wat is located inside an immense, literally huge, park and within its perimeter there are many other beautiful temples so you actually need to take into consideration that once you get there, there are a lot of stairs to climb up and down.  You will be exhausted by the end of the day . However, it’s good to know that you can choose between visiting the park for 1 day or more days according to your plan.

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Backpackers, nomads and the like might opt to rent a bicycle in Siem Reap where you can choose between a very  old fashion bike for just 1 dollar to a cutting edge mountain bike whose price may range between 3 to 8 dollars a day.

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In my case, I rented a cheapo at a place where they had no mountain bikes because it was very near my hotel and I thought it would be better not to walk too much after such a long day at Angkor. I actually went to Angkor the previous day to check how far it  was from Siem Reap city and discovered that it was much nearer than I thought. As I approached one of the numerous check points, a man stopped me and explained that you cannot enter the park without a special permit. In order to visit Angkor Park, you have to go to a huge place in Road n.6 to get your pass. I wanted to get the pass for the following day so I went to the ticket office in Road n.6 only to find out that the ticket must be purchased on the same day unless you go to the office half an hour before they close. I was a bit disappointed by such policy, however I had to return there the following day.

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On the day I visited Angkor, I went to the ticket office straight away. It’s located a bit far from Angkor Park so the best route is to follow the road on the right side of the river heading towards East (Angkor), go past the Peace cafe and keep going until the road bent towards the right. You will find yourself on a small road parallel to Road n.6. The traffic may be intense so pay attention while you cycle. Once you get to Road n.6, turn right and keep cycling until you reach a roundabout, go straight. Right after the roundabout, on the left side of the road you will see big beautiful white buildings where the ticket office and the museum are located. There are normally several tourist buses parked there  so you can’t miss them. Once at the office, you have to queue to have your picture taken and you’ll get a pass like the one in the picture below, for 20 dollars or 84,000 riels.

UPDATE: The One Day Pass fee has dramatically increased and now it costs 37 dollars (June, 15, 2017)

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Next, to get to Angkor, there are a few secondary roads that can easily take you there, however the easiest way from the ticket office is to get back to road n.6 and turn right at the roundabout. While you cycle you will have the ticket office on your right, keep cycling for a few kilometers until the end of the road, then turn right and you are in Angkor Park. The personnel at the entrance of each temple will check your pass every single time so  keep it handy.

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My advice is, take a hat or something to cover your head because the sun is really strong. You can easily find drinking water and food all over the park so you don’t need to carry extra weight. There are local communities living in Angkor Park so you can find traditional food and items as well as the usual souvenir for tourists. There are a lot of local artists who make spectacular paintings of Angkor Wat, you can purchase them all over Angkor Park. Personally, I bought a couple of t-shirts from a very kind woman who explained to me that there haven’t been enough tourists lately and so they were a bit desperate to sell their goods. I wanted to help them so, even if I didn’t need them and I definitely don’t want to put any extra weight in my backpack, I bought the t-shirts and she gave me a great deal. I also decided to eat inside Angkor to help the local communities which seem to rely solely on tourism for their income. Most of them are farmers.

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I stopped to have a look at a beautiful little girl and her mom cleaning the fish while the men were catching them in the river (see photos below). There are crocodiles here but they didn’t seem to mind. This little girl reminded me of myself as a child. I hated learning girl stuff, one of my aunts once tried to teach me how to knit and I threw everything against a wall and ran to the forest. It may be a bit early to talk about gender fluidity in Cambodia but I think it’s about time. After all, if people are mature enough to know about human trafficking, child abuse and all the horrible things that humans are willing to do for the sake of money, why not introducing the concept of diversity in the name of love? I wish this little girl and her family all the best. Anyway, when I left, she smiled and waved at me a few times. Seeing a woman travelling alone does make an impact in South East Asia.

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Back to our bicycle trip, here are the advantages of travelling to Angkor by bike by yourself. You can stop and admire the temples for as long as you wish without having to concern yourself with keeping up with a group. You can have as many toilet stops as you wish! You get to see some incredibly beautiful parts of unspoiled jungle. I also saw some monkeys and wild boars.  You can take as many pictures as you like at your own pace. The only disadvantage, in my opinion, is that if you want to know the history of Angkor in detail, you need a local guide. They are all Cambodian, they speak several languages and they can answer all of your questions. Cambodian people are very friendly and warm hearted and the traditional food is healthy and delicious.

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If you don’t feel brave enough for this type of adventure, there are numerous agencies in Siem Reap which organize the bicycle trip in a group with an expert guide who will tell you the complete history of Angkor and all of its temples.

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That’s all for now and don’t forget to enjoy every single step of your journey!

Cheers.

 

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Vegan in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Vegan in Siem Reap, Cambodia

There are a few places in Cambodia where you can eat healthy and nutritious vegan food, however such places seem reserved to tourists rather than aiming at the local population. Somehow, I got the feeling that such places are more of a trend rather than a profound ethical belief, especially those places which sell alcohol; and I don’t mean just beer, they have the most liver-killer cocktails you could possibly imagine. Interestingly, in Cambodia alcohol is cheaper than food and drinking water. A coincidence?

One of the waiters at a very famous local vegetarian cafe which sells all types of alcoholic drinks, made a funny face when  I asked her if I could have some garlic in my  food. She pointed out that they are Buddhist and they do not use any garlic nor onion in their food. I was left speechless, I actually couldn’t say anything else because she was just one of the  staff working there and her knowledge of English was limited but in my mind I felt outraged. What?  You are telling me you are following Buddhist guidelines and you sell alcohol? Is garlic more harmful than a substance which is deleterious for  your mind, body and soul?  Well, garlic is a medicine and a local Cambodian young man told me that it keeps the ghosts away. In Europe, it is traditionally believed that garlic keeps vampires at a distance!  I’m not superstitious but don’t touch my garlic!

I must admit though, their food is delicious but as a nomadic person, I definitely cannot afford to have fancy looking food presented in a nouvelle cuisine style. What I mean is, their portions are too small for me. For backpackers, nomads and the like, such places are only good for a treat once in a while because they also appear to be overpriced for the type of food they are selling. It has to be taken into consideration that most of these places are for tourists only so, as I said earlier, they are not real restaurants but restaurants for tourists. For the sake of honesty, I have to say also that these places claim to be giving part of their profits to the local community to promote fair trade. Yet, their prices are overpriced compared to most other places in Asia.

Before getting to Siem Reap, I crossed a very anonymous border in the North and shared a cab all the way down to the city. Most people in Cambodia are farmers and depend on the land for their living with the exception of the few cities where you can see booming businesses for both the locals and the numerous foreigners living here.

To be honest, I feel more comfortable eating in a place where the local people go and not in a fancy restaurant, especially when you become aware that you are doing something rather “elitist” for the local population.

There are many people in Cambodia who have lost their limbs because they stood on a mine. A mistake that can change your life forever. So many people are in a vulnerable situation, I wanted to do some volunteer work while here and I met an experienced volunteer who told me to watch out for scams. Apparently, it has become a business in Cambodia to take tourists or travellers to orphanages where the children are not real orphans, they are just there to touch the heart of the visitors so that they can get donations. Someone not so keen on orphans is obviously behind this type of business. I felt very disgusted by it, it was the same when in Nepal some people were organizing earthquake trips to help the victims but it was actually another scam to spill money out of good hearted tourists. If you want to know more about volunteering in developing countries, please visit this site: Volunteering in Cambodia and elsewhere.

Cambodia is one of the most beautiful places I have seen so far in Asia. The landscape is really  breathtaking and the local people are warm hearted, friendly, honest and very generous. This has been my experience so far in budget hotels, local markets, little shops and the places where the local people go.

If you need a guide to eating in Cambodia, I suggest you to read what some of the gurus of veganism have written: Paul and Caryl. This is their website:

Vegan Food Quest

At the moment, I’m eating at a few places which offer good and natural food (in Cambodia most food is natural because there are farms everywhere) where I just explain what I can and I cannot eat and they cook it for me. Yes, it’s that easy.  A very friendly and helpful Cambodian woman wrote in the local language the type of food that I can have so that, when I happen to go to places where people don’t understand English, I just show my magic piece of paper and everybody knows exactly what I want. If you crave peanut butter and jam as I did, you can find delicious, locally made products with no chemicals added. And the bread?  Well, there is a fantastic French bakery in Wat Bo Road where they make real baguettes without using any milk powder or any other nasty chemical stuff, just: wheat flour (white), salt, water and yeast. Brown bread and brown rice are only available in fancy places. However, if you can cook, you can find all sorts of goodies at the market including black and organic rice.

Life is an adventure, explore the unknown and give your best to all!

I’ll be writing more articles about this beautiful country so stay tuned.

Bangkok Street Art

Bangkok Street Art

If you happen to visit Bangkok, you can’t miss the extraordinary murals and other beautiful pieces of street art which can be found all over the city. In this article, I just want to show you some pictures I took in the Khao San Road area.

This particular art was not made on walls but on sheets of wavy metals which were used by Bangkok city to cover some work in progress. As I walked there by chance, I was completely mesmerized by the infinite beauty of the artists who painted their work here.

You will notice both modern and mythological characters of the Thai culture.

Here is the giant whose origin are linked to the Hindu Ramayana.

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Vegan in Surin, Thailand

Vegan in Surin, Thailand

In the North East of Thailand, there is a nice small town called Surin. The people are friendly and the town is perfectly balanced between green areas and buildings. You can easily walk all around town on foot.

Plenty of vegetarian food is available in restaurants, shops and market. I will list the three main vegan restaurants located in the heart of town:

  • Wat Chin Vegetarian

Located next to a temple (Wat Chin), near the market and the TOT building (Thai Telecommunication Company).

This place is huge, they offer a self service buffet at usual meal times. In return for their service, you are only asked to put a donation in a box. The food is good. Be generous as the place offer food to all, including the less fortunate who cannot afford to buy a meal.

If you get there in the morning, you will see a lot of people preparing kanom (Thai traditional sweets). These sweets are really delicious and you can buy them freshly made. I tried a very delicious sweet which reminded me of Japanese mochi. It’s made with battered rice with a stuffing of crunched and creamy peanuts – yummy. Then salapao (Chinese bread)stuffed with pumpkin or other ingredients. There are other sweets as well, as they don’t speak a lot of English, my suggestion is to buy a sample of each one of them, as I did. The white Chinese bread was incredibly delicious, it reminded me of European style fresh white bread though it doesn’t have a crust. If you go there in the afternoon, you will see people cooking everywhere, preparing the huge buffet for a lot of diners. They are all very friendly.

  • Vegan Luck Muang

Luck Muang Road

This restaurant is very very popular. If you go there during usual meal times, you have to queue to get your food. There is a buffet with plenty of delicious vegetables which keeps getting updated with new dishes. They also have a variety of fried food, mock meat and tofu based product. It’s very delicious that’s why is so popular.

  • Vegan Tanasarn

Tanasarn Road

Located  near the previous restaurant. This place offers a selection of soups made with fresh vegetables and different types of mushrooms. They have coconut curry with aubergines (eggplants), a dish that you can find almost in every single vegetarian restaurant in Thailand,  as well as Tom Yam and other traditional dishes which may be a little too spicy for some. They also make mock fish and sausages and good lightly cooked mixed vegetables. The food is good and the people are friendly.