Category Archives: Cambodia

What an adventure (SE Asia)

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1 idea, 1 baby, 1 husband and wife, 2 backpacks, 2 daypacks, 1 buggy, 6 months, 25 weeks, 176 days, 175 nights, 6 countries, 55 destinations, 70 temporary homes, 67 guest houses, 2 friends houses, 1 tree house, 525 meals, 12 planes, 66 taxis, 11 cars, 22 buses, 17 coaches, 14 ferries, 7 MRT journeys, 6 4x4s, 23 local minibuses, 6 speedboats, 8 tourist buses, 2 rib boats, 3 x cycle rickshaws, 1 tourist boat, 4 trains, 1 horse and cart, 3 motor rickshaws, 14 sky trains, 5 underground trains, 1 canoe, 1 small wooden boat, 1 jeep, 2 tug boats, 6 long-tail boats, 38 tuk tuks, 10 saangthaew , 1 elephant, first 2 baby steps, 9 new teeth, 2 baby haircuts, 19 new words, 1 happy toddler, 1 new job, 1 new life…

…a backpack, a buggy, a baby 

1 BIG adventure.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Heathrow Airport aged 11 months, day 4 of our trip in Tioman, a toddling chap on China beach and 18 months old at the end of our journey.

Bowls as boats and crocs! (Tonie Sap, Cambodia)

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On our final afternoon in Siem Reap we visited the floating village.  The village is located on the Tonie Sap lake, a huge expanse of water that meets the Mekong River.

‘The boy’, hubby and I jumped in a small tugboat and we headed off up the river to explore. ‘The boy’ seemed to enjoy peering over the edge of the boat and the realisation that we were in one of the slowest vessels was a benefit as he was able to wave at all the passing tourists. One of the first buildings we came upon was the local church. Built of wood and painted white with a huge cross on the top, it bobs around on the water with only a few small houses either side. The smaller houses are perched on top of tugboats, the larger ones are built on platforms that are kept afloat on old barrels. The houses are painted in bright colours and many of the inhabitants were sitting out on the front deck watching us go past in our boats.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Colourful floating houses

We watched the local children splashing about in the water, having fun, and although this is normal for the kids who grow up in the village, I thought it very brave, as the water is also home to crocs. It’s certainly not somewhere I would want to play for fun.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

'The boy' watching the world go by from the boat

After a tour of the village we stopped at a floating café.  The café stop was obviously the ‘normal’ stopping place for tourists as within minutes of mooring locals who were begging for money surrounded us. A girl, who couldn’t have been older than eight, was paddling around the café deck, but not in a boat, in a tin washing up bowl and to top it off she had a snake around her neck. Women with their babies balanced precariously on the bow of their tiny boats, arms outstretched, cried and wailed in our direction.  It was a very bizarre sight and although upsetting was obviously a ritual that took place many times a day on the arrival of each fresh batch of tourists.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

A girl looks up from her boat - a tin washing bowl

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

A family eat dinner on the deck in front of their house

The downside of the village tour was the obvious scam that had been set up to push tourists to part with their cash. We heard a very sad story about the local school that is apparently full of orphans. The story was very elaborate and we told how the children had hardly any money, food or possessions. We were then told we could only visit the school if we bought the children some food or school supplies from the local shop. After five months on the road I’ve become very cynical, so at this point I already suspected something wasn’t quite right. We pulled up at the tiny shop and my hubby went in to see what he could purchase. Only it wasn’t a normal little local shop. It was selling everything in bulk AND at the most ridiculously overinflated prices you’ve ever seen.  It was expensive by UK standards, with a pack of ten small poor quality exercise books being sold for $15, and a tray of noodles $25! Much to the boat driver’s annoyance we refused to buy anything, but other tourists did, thus encouraging the scam to continue.

The blatant overpricing put a bit of a damper on the village experience, but it would be hard to spoil our overall experience of Siem Reap, which is a very positive one. It’s certainly one of the highlights of our trip.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

A sunset drink on the roof of the cafe. Two family shots in two days!

Top tip of the day:
If you’re out for the day on a boat or on a long bus journey we find that standard nappies (as oppose to pull ups) are preferable. It’s quicker and easier to change your baby’s nappy on the move when you don’t have to take their trousers and shoes off.

The ultimate playground (Siem Reap, Cambodia)

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In order to see as much as we could in the three days we’d scheduled in Siem Reap we hired a tuk tuk and driver for the entire period.

When Siem Reap is mentioned people naturally think of Angkor Wat. But of the hundreds of temples in the area we found some of the smaller temples were more interesting to walk around.  ‘The boy’ had a great time, as there was so much safe space for him to run around and rocks to climb and explore.  We visited eight temples in three days and not wanting to bore you with the finer details of each archaeological sight I will give you an insight into what we saw using photography instead:

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Our lovely driver 'Jack' and his lovely new tuk tuk. Another family shot!

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Ta Som temple

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Climbing 1.5 kilometres up the dry riverbed to reach the carvings at the top - Kbal

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

The beautiful temple, Banteay Srei

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

The Bayon

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Face carvings feature heavily in the architecture at the Bayon - one of our favourite temples in Siem Reap

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Milk time at the Bayon Temple

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Climbing through the tree roots at Ta Phrom temple

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Ta Phrom - tree roots and temple become one

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

The stunning Angkor Wat

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

A monk joins the throng of people visiting the famous Angkor Wat

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

A group of tourists with their lenses trained on 'the boy' - Angkor Wat

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Daddy and 'the boy' in front of Angkor Wat

Top tip of the day:
There is more safe green space for your baby to play on around the temples in Siem Reap than any other place we’ve been in Asia. Take a ball or some outdoor toys with you to give your baby play breaks during the day.

 

 

The Royal Palace (Phnom Penh, Cambodia)

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After enjoying the time we spent in Phnom Penh over Christmas we were looking forward to another couple of nights in the city. We found a basic room for £8 a night and scheduled a visit to the Royal Palace and some time to explore the city on foot.

The Grand Palace covers extensive grounds, a perfect space for ‘the boy’ to stretch his legs and have a run around.  However, today he was in a cheeky mood and wasn’t on his best behaviour.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

White Temple within the Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

After being told to stay close to mummy and daddy he went toddling off at full speed in the opposite direction towards a large puddle of water, splashed around in his sandals, and after ignoring the requests to ‘come back please’ took his hat off, threw it into the muddy water and trampled on it whilst giggling. Admittadly it was quite amusing, but I certainly wasn’t going to let him know that. The problem was that a small croud had gathered around him, cameras clicking in his face, all laughing at him and telling him him how cute he was. It was one of those ‘Alf-o-rama’ moments, but it hardly re-inforced the fact that he’d just done something naughty. As far as he was concerned, what he’d done was obviously very clever. HELP!

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Don't...

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Don't you....

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Don't you dare! Oh, too late

Anyway, after spending a couple of hours at the Palace we took an afternoon stroll down by the river. The footpaths that hug the waters edge are really wide and attract many of the locals who use the space to skateboard, dance, picnic and play football. The boy was mesmorised watching a group of men kicking a wicker ball around and loved it when they invited him to join in. As the sun set ‘the boy’ practised his novice ball skills, tiring him out perfectly for a good sleep later that night.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

'The boy' joins in a sunset game of football on the riverfront, Phonm Penh

Tomorrow we have aother long bus journey up to Siem Reap. I hope he’s on better behaviour tomorrow.

Top tip of the day:
We found a lovely vegetarian restaurant in the centre of Phnom Penh that serves up cheap, tasty and healthy food. Our baby loved the vegetarian tomato pasta. It made a nice change from rice.
The Vegetarian, No 11, Street 200, Off Norodom Road, Phnom Penh (open Monday to Saturday 10am – 8om)

Caves, crab and countryside (Kampot & Kep, Cambodia)

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As our visit to Kampot was unexpected, and with no plans as to what we were going to do during our stay, we opted to take a one day tour around the area in the back of a tuk tuk.

The tuk tuks in Cambodia are by far the most comfortable we’ve have experienced so far in Asia. The seats are deep and padded and wide enough for all three of us to fit comfortably and unlike Bangkok they travel at a steady pace.

The tour included a visit to the nearby caves, pepper farm, local fishing village and to Kep, the next small town along, famous for its crab fishing.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Tasting fresh pepper at the plantation

The scenery between stop offs was lovely. Huge expanses of flat farmland with tall palm trees dotted sporadically with a dramatic backdrop of huge hills. We passed many local people working in the fields, oxes pulling carts and push bikes stacked high with local produce. As we drove through the countryside ‘the boy’ enjoyed spotting animals and added the word ‘cow’ to his growing vocabulary.

I was very nervous and my adrenalin was pumping when our tuk tuk got stuck whilst crossing a railway line.  With ‘the boy’ and I perched on the tuk tuk like a sitting target, I quickly grabbed him up and jumped off, only to be reminded by my amused hubby that the train lines are no longer in use. I have to admit I did wonder why the tuk tuk driver was so calm about the situation. Panic over!

The weather was beautiful, the peppered crab that we ate for lunch was superb, but the highlight of the day was watching ‘the boy’ play with the local children in the small fishing village. Wherever he went, the children followed, toddling along the waterfront and watching the ducks. We rounded them up (the children, not the ducks) and took a group photograph to show him when he’s older.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

'The boy' and his friends from the fishing village near Kampot

Kampot was definitely worth the unexpected visit.

Top tip if the day:
If you have the option to do a tour on your own at a reasonable rate then I would recommend this over a group minibus tour. We’ve done both during our time in Asia and we often find that the larger group tours are very rigid and stick to tight timelines. Once we’ve got off the bus, put ‘the boy’ in the sling, changed his nappy or given him his milk, it’s almost time to turn around and move onto the next sight.  When you’re on your own tour you can set the pace and it’s a far more relaxing experience.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

HELP! stuck on the train tracks near Kampot

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

More coconut milk please mummy

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Fresh peppered crab eaten overlooking Kep bay

Serindipity (Serindipity beach, Cambodia)

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Serindipity: The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way: “a fortunate stroke of serendipity”.

On new years day we headed back to the mainland to meet up with the ladies for a final evening with them before they headed off to Vietnam, and we continued on our journey in Cambodia.

We stayed for one night at Serendipity beach and the following day we did indeed happen upon a fortunate stroke of serendipity.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

'The boy' sits with one of the beach sellers

After researching where we should head to next, and after finding out that the only way to get to Kampot was on a shared local minibus, the type that we had been warned against using due to them frequently being involved in accidents, we decided to change our itinerary, save some time and book a direct flight from Sinhoukville to Siem Reap.  This was an unusual decision for us as we try to opt for the cheapest travel option, normally choosing local buses/coaches, to keep our cost down. Spending £220 on a one-way flight was a hefty expenditure.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Serindipity road

The following day we arrived at the aiprot with only 35 minutes to spare after our pre booked taxi didn’t turn up and we had huge trouble getting hold of another one. We were flustered, a bit stressed, but luckily we’d made it on time. However, there was a hitch. The owner of the travel agent who we booked through was waiting for us in the departure hall. She looked very stressed, told us to sit down and then broke the news that the flight had been overbooked due to an error on the arilines booking system. With only one flight leaving everyday we were not going to be flying to Siem Reap after all.

At first we were cross and dissapointed. We hadn’t booked any onward accommodation, but we were looking forward to seeing the temples the following day and had made a rough plan of our journey henceforth.  It was 15.30 and we were going to have to have a re-think. Luckily for us our lovely travel agent made it easy. She had come prepared. She gave us the cash back to cover our taxi to the airport, cash back for the cost of the flight and if we so wished she would pay for a private taxi to drive us the two hours to Kampot, a place we had originally wanted to visit.  What a result.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Alice looks out over Serindipity beach

We concluded that although it threw our plans up in the air, the outcome was a positive one. Spending £220 on one flight to Siem Reap was a rash decision considering that we can get there for less that £15 on a coach.  In fact the £220 will cover our coach trips for the remainder of our time in Asia.

And so that’s how we experienced Serindipity – an occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way

Top tip of the day:
If you’re staying somewhere that has no hot water and your baby doesn’t like being washed in cold water, ask the guest house if you can borrow a bucket or bowl (most places seem to have them). Fill it with water in the morning and by evening the water will have naturally warmed to a nice temperature.

Back to basics, Ten103 (Koh Ta Kiev, Cambodia)

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After the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh we headed back down south to re-visit the beach we fell in love with, Otres. Another three days were spent on the white sand before we took the boat to Koh Ta Kiev Island, a one-hour boat journey away.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Miss Marsh soaks up some sun whilst Joel makes one of his many desperate phone-calls to try to find a boat to come and rescue us.

Well it should have taken an hour, but unfortunately the boat’s prop came loose from the engine and before the driver could catch it, it dropped to the bottom of the ocean. So there we were, nine of us bobbing around in the middle of the ocean whilst Joel, the owner of the place we were going to stay in, spent an hour desperately trying to find a boat to come out and rescue us. Miss Marsh and Miss Hookings enjoyed lying out on the bow, whilst the boy seemed intrigued by a gas canister before becoming bored and falling asleep to the gently bobbing of the boat. Ninety minutes later and a fishing boat arrived, bundled us onto their boat, fixed a spare prop onto our boat and bundled us back onto our newly fixed vessel. All in our entire journey took 3 ½ hours, rather than the one that we had expected. However, it was worth the wait.

Ten103 is a small tree house resort, but a very basic one in terms of amenities. The island has no electricity or solar power so lighting comes in the form of candles or small torches.  The shared bathroom facilities consist of a drop toilet (hole in the ground) and a large drum full of rainwater to wash with. There are no flush toilets, showers, hot water, lights, wifi or any of the amenities that we often take for granted. The kitchen doesn’t even have a fridge. Large blocks of ice, collected daily from the mainland, are the only way of keeping the food and beverages cool and the superb Italian cooking (daily home baked bread, home made pasta, roasted fish etc) is all cooked on one gas ring and in a traditional outdoor bread oven.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

The communal bathroom with rainwater bucket to wash with. A scoop is provided to pour the water over your head. This really is back to basics living!

Some people may not be comfortable taking their baby into this environment, but after we spent a week at ecovallee, France, back in June when ‘the boy’ was 9 months old we knew that we would have no problems. Ecovallee is a beautiful eco resort nestled in the stunning countryside of the Dordogne. The inspirational owners, Claire and Alex, left their fast paced life of the London advertising world, bought a piece of land in France and with a lot of hard graft have turned it into an eco lovers dream. There are two yurts, an open-air kitchen and true to its eco ethos has an outdoor shower, drop toilet and no electricity.  We absolutely loved our time there and ‘the boy’ adapted to his new environment with no problems. Bath time for him was in a washing up bowl on the grass, his high chair was perched under the kitchen canopy overlooking the horse and the chickens in the field below and even though the weather was a bit unpredictable during our stay with a lot of unexpected rain, he adapted perfectly well then, so we had no doubt that he would adapt again for this new adventure.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

'The boy' entertains 'the girls'

For most, the Cambodian island is a real getaway. The perfect time to relax, read a few books and get away from hectic daily life. For us though, with a baby in tow, this type of environment has the opposite affect.  We managed to ‘baby proof’ our tree house by turning a table on it’s side and jamming it into entrance of the wooden hut, but the communal areas, having understandably not been designed with children in mind, were full of hazards. The wooden decks and platforms that were covered in comfortable chairs and cushions were open sided with ten-foot drops on most sides. Consequently the relaxation areas were the least relaxing places for mummy and daddy. And with ‘the boy’s’ new love of climbing ramps being his favourite pastime we nervously watched repeatedly as he clambered up and down the boards linking the living areas.

Aside from keeping a watchful eye on ‘the boy’ it was an amazing experience. One day we took a hike through the jungle to the other side of the island. The beach was beautiful and we were the only people on it.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Our open air tree house overlooking the sea

On New Years Eve the girls headed back to the mainland to hit the party scene, but we decided to stay on the island to celebrate in more understated fashion. A huge meal was prepared by Joel, which we ate together by candlelight before heading to the beach for a bonfire and fireworks. It was at this point that we left and headed back to our tree house. In Asia there is a lack of understanding as to the damage that can be caused by fireworks and after a couple of rockets had been thrown carelessly around the beach by the locals who worked at Ten103, we decided we didn’t want to risk being in the firing line and opted to call it a night and celebrate NYE at 7am the next morning, midnight UK time.

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

New Years Eve dinner by candlelight

Ko Ka Tiev is a stunningly natural place, but unfortunately, as with Otres beach, the island has already been sold to a developer. Nobody, including Joel who owns the lease to Ten103, can be sure how long the island’s natural beauty will be preserved for. I hope many others can enjoy the experience before it’s too late.

Top tip of the day:
If you’re staying somewhere with no electricity and have an iphone, download the ‘torch’ app. It’s surprisingly bright and in addition to a torch is very useful in the night if you have to get up for teething troubles

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Ten103 social area looking over the sea

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

'The boy' gets to know the staff

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

Joel and Johan with the ladies and 'the boy'

backpacking with a baby SE Asia

New years eve menu - it was delicious