Phnom Penh: take 2 – Emma and Paul on safari

Trip Start Mar 18, 2009
Trip End Jan 12, 2010

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Friday, June 26, 2009

The coach trip back to Phnom Penh from Sihanoukville was breath-taking (Mekong Express $7 each), we spent the whole 4 hours watching near misses as on-coming traffic either swerved to avoid us or sent us onto the bumpy verge. We witnessed new extremes of what can be loaded onto a motorbike, how many people can fit into and on top of a minibus. Our favourite was the 3 men sitting on top of a 3 metre high pile of bags of rice, precariously loaded onto the back of a lorry.

Back in Phnom Penh we stayed for 4 nights in the Asia Hotel, which we chose because of it's free wifi (not working) and free breakfast (not very good). Yet again we were on the top floor – the 5th and we took the stairs as the lift looked very dodgy.

On the 24th June we had a sorting-stuff-out day. Unfortunately Paul's brother now can't come and meet us here as planned, so we needed to buy some of the things he was going to bring out to us. A travel kettle was number 1 on the list so that we can have cups of tea and pot noodles in our room and save some money on meals. We also handed our passports to Cino travel agency and gave them $82 to extend both of our Cambodian Visas – we're now able to stay until the 5th August.

The 24th June was also day 100 of our trip – a real landmark – to celebrate I cut Paul's hair !

On the 25th June we went on safari with Betelnut Jeep Tours to the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary. We left the lakeside backpacker district of Phnom Penh at 10am in the back of an open leopard print jeep and drove for an hour to the nature park, with just one other tourist – Petra from Vienna, and our lovely guide.

Before lunch we took a walk around a lake and saw Sambar Deer wallowing in the water alongside pelicans and huge adjutant storks. There were lots of cheeky macaque monkeys canon-balling into the water from the trees and playing just like children. We saw a large enclosure where they breed rare birds for release into the wild – mostly enormous Greater Adjutants. We also saw red squirrels, Sambar deer, Languor monkeys, gibbons, otters, slow loris, different types of owls, eagles, bats and amazing mynah birds – most of which have been rescued from poachers or farms where they are bred for Chinese medicine or the restaurant trade. After a lovely lunch we tried chewing some betel nut – a peppery leaf, brushed with pink lime paste, with dried betel nut – we didn't chew it for long before giving up, a bit like Big Red chewing gum, but it makes your mouth fill with saliva and turns your tongue and teeth red !

We walked up to the elephant enclosure and watched a tacky show where the elephants danced and then the 3 of us with our guide and the elephant trainer followed two elephants through the forest to a pool where the elephants had a bath right beside us. One of the elephants had a prosthetic foot – he lost his foot in a poachers trap. Neither of us have ever been this close to elephants and they are truly amazing – and massive !

Next we walked to see the 7 tigers, in enormous enclosures. We were allowed to get a bit closer to them when they were feeding, but thankfully they were still behind bars! They had also been rescued from captivity, as had a lion – not native to Cambodia, he'd been brought over from Africa by a man in Phnom Penh who thought he could set up some lion shows for the

Final stop were the moon and sun bears – they have over a hundred, rescued from bile farms (again for Chinese medicine) and the restaurant trade (bear paw soup). A few of the bears were missing paws and it really showed the good work that the staff at Phnom Tamao do in saving animals. We considered volunteering here with the beers, but unfortunately we don't have a week to spare.

There was a huge variety of wildlife here and the tour was really well set up, we felt we'd got close up to the animals and it for once we weren't pressured to buy anything. We were even given a beer before we learnt about the plight of the Sun bears !

Back in Phnom Penh on the Friday we had another sorting-out-stuff day, this time working out the process for our Thai visa (which is free until 2010!) and stocking up on books !

Next stop – the temples of Angkor ... we've been looking forward to this bit !
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