Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Christmas and New Year in Siem Reap - with added snake and landmines

Pub Street, Siem Reap
Our final stop in Cambodia was Siem Reap, primarily of course, to see the famous Angkor Temples. Knowing that it would be hot and tiring, we decided to have a long stay, so that we could do just a few temples a day over a longer period. This worked well with our decision that Siem Reap would be a good place to spend Christmas and New Year.

As usual, our Christmas present to ourselves is to stay in a nicer standard of accommodation, so we treated ourselves to a stay at The Moon Residence. It isn't the best hotel in town - even our treat budget doesn't run to that for ten days - but we rather liked it. The rooms were roomy, comfortable and, importantly, had great aircon.

Siem Reap
The staff were friendly and attentive. Our only slight criticism was that the restaurant, which had quite new staff, had a few teething problems. But even then, the staff were excellent in handling it, and I suspect they will have any issues ironed out by now. Oh, and the cocktails were excellent, and the free Khmer massage left me feeling like I was walking on air for the first time in ages.

The hotel collected us from the bus station, and provided a free tuk tuk into town - not that it was far, just a short walk away to the infamous Pub Street.

Christmas Dinner of Cambodian BBQ, Siem Reap
We had expected Pub Street to be loud and brash; it was, but not as much as we had expected. And you only had to move off a couple of streets to find places that were a little more tasteful. We tried a few, including the Red Piano, which proudly announces that this is where Angelina Jolie came to drink when she was filming Tomb Raider. It was OK there, but they are certainly using the connection to bump up their prices a fair bit.

Cambodian Landmine Museum, Siem Reap
We much preferred The Sun across the road. It was airy, with good food, great drinks, nice staff, and somewhat cheaper prices. A few other places that we liked were Sister Srey Café, Gelato and Coffee Lab, The Laundry, and a nice little Japanese place opposite The Creperie in Penny Lane.

For Christmas, we had a very untraditional meal at the Cambodian BBQ. They bring you a table top BBQ, with a bowl of broth, your chosen selection of meats, and some veg. The veg goes in the broth, and the meats onto the BBQ. Alongside the more usual selection of chicken, duck, pork and beef, we had the less usual Christmas fare of crocodile and snake. We'd had crocodile previously, but snake was a new one for us. It tasted fine, but was a bit chewy.

Cambodian Landmine Museum, Siem Reap
To wash it down afterwards, we went along to Miss Wong's Cocktail Bar. It is a great little bar and the cocktails are good, but it is a bit on the pricey side compared to other places.

For New Year's Eve, we decided to stay at the hotel. We had met a Swedish woman in the hotel, and spent the evening with her. It was nice to have company, and although it was a quiet night, we enjoyed it, and being on the roof terrace, we had a good view of the fireworks. It did amuse us rather that they played Abba's, 'Happy New Year' three times in succession.
Cambodian Landmine Museum, Siem Reap

Aside from festivities and food, we did have a bit of a look around too, but most of what we did here was visiting temples, which I will cover over the next few posts. One place that we did go to though was the Cambodian Landmine Museum, which was started in the late 1990s by a man named Aki Ra.

Aki Ra, whose real name is Eoun Yeak doesn't know quite when he was born, but he thinks it was 1970 or 1973. This isn't as strange as it sounds, as many births weren't officially recorded and the Khmer Rouge destroyed lots of documents too. He can't ask his parents, as they were killed by the Khmer Rouge when he was a young child. He was conscripted by the Khmer Rouge as a child soldier, and later was a member of the Kampuchean People's Revolutionary Armed Forces. During his time as a soldier, he planted landmines.

Cambodian Landmine Museum, Siem Reap
After the fighting ended, Aki Ra worked for the UN clearing landmines for a year, and then in 1992, he went off on his own, clearing landmines from the land around his community. He had no proper tools, just things like a hoe, and a knife. When tourists heard about this guy clearing these landmines, he started charging a dollar to see his collection of mines, which was the start of the Museum. Over the years, he has cleared in the region of 50,000 mines, so there is now quite a collection at the museum - they assure us they are all safe now!

Cambodian Landmine Museum, Siem Reap

He had no official qualification - which was to get him into trouble a couple of times, until he did a training course in London and then earned his full certificate in 2008. After that, he started up an organisation called Cambodian Self Help Demining, to continue and expand the clearance projects. It is believed that there are probably around 5 million mines still in the ground in Cambodia; in fact we saw a mine clearance team working in one of the fields as we drove past that day.

Alongside the mine clearance, Aki Ra - who got his new name when someone compared his efficiency to a Japanese Company called AKIRA - also picked up a number of abandoned children, and took them in. Now the Museum helps to fund a relief centre for almost thirty children aged six to twenty. The kids go to a local school, but get additional education at the centre, and five now go to the university in Siem Reap. They are also in the process of setting up a farm on site, to teach those skills too.

It was an interesting place to visit, not so much to see the mines, but because there was also quite a lot of information about the mines and the work to clear them.

AHA Fair Trade Village, Siem Reap

We visited a couple of craft places too. There was one very close to the hotel, called Artisans D'Angkor, where you can tour various workshops and there is a big shop. They did have some lovely pieces, but nothing that hit the three requisite criteria - loving it, small enough to carry, and in budget. Not that we wouldn't spend out, or arrange shipping if needed, for the perfect piece, but these weren't quite perfect.

We had also heard about another cooperative craft place, where all of the products are guaranteed to be handmade locally, rather than mass produced, with the money going to the rural people who make it, rather than some wealthy middle man.  It is run by the Angkor Handicraft Association (AHA), and is on Road 60, Traing Village, Slorgram Quarter.

I've given the address, because our tuk tuk driver hadn't heard of it, neither had a few others we had asked. It took us a while to find the place, but we did eventually. The prices are fixed, rather than haggled over, and they are more expensive, but we think it is worth the little bit extra to support genuine local artisans. I bought a nice reed handbag.

Map showing presence of live landmines around the world, Cambodian Landmine Museum, Siem Reap

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