The Final Chapter

DSC01849We’ve been asked a few times, so we thought we should post one final update on the blog to let everyone know where we are now…


After a year and a half of continuous travelling we decided to hang up our boots, empty the backpacks and attempt some sort of normal life again.  Then we sat down as a family to make the hard decisions, including where to live?  Ben and I experienced some serious post-travel blues, homesickness and the boys have see-sawed between wanting to stay in Australia or go back home to the UK on a daily basis!  But, finally we decided to stay here in Brisbane and give it our best shot.  It’s a beautiful place, with fantastic weather, friendly people and an outdoor lifestyle that is hard to resist.

Some weekend fun!

Some weekend fun with friends!

This is not to say that we have fallen out of love with the UK, a glimpse of a lush green country field, or a picture of kids making snowballs in winter, and we experience waves of homesickness, never-mind how it feels to leave your loved ones and friends behind!  We will miss seeing so many wonderful people in our lives on a regular basis.  However, as my brother Andrew recently commented, “regrets are harder to live with than mistakes” which could have been our motto for the last eighteen months…so here we are!

Time with my family.

More time with my Aussie family.

Home from home? We’ve rented a house in Brisbane, as we thought being near this lovely small city would give us more opportunities.  We also enrolled the boys into a local school which they love, they have great teachers, are making friends and are thriving in the informal attitude in the classroom after no school for so long.  It is also easier to not be their teacher, this was one of the most challenging aspects of family travel.  We decided early on that formal education while travelling was impossible, so museums, science exhibitions, ranger talks and just talking to the locals about culture, religion and politics wherever possible gave the boys a really interesting, varied education.  They are certainly smashing their geography lessons!  Both Cameron & Ollie are delighted to have their own bedrooms again after so long sharing hotel rooms, cabins or tents. I’m just happy to have somewhere to hang up my clothes!


Jobs?  It’s proving much harder than we thought to find jobs similar to the UK here, especially for Ben, as Brisbane is a very small market in comparison to London.  I would like to teach in the future, but settling in here with the kids is a big priority for me right now.

Friends and Family? This is the one we are struggling with the most.  We have gained a lot, especially being close to my family again after so long and its lovely for the boys to get to know their Aussie family better.  It’s also been made easier having dear friends here who have helped us settle in so many ways (thank you Schnitzerlings!!), but this also means you have to leave people you love behind, and the impact of this is not to be underestimated. It’s hard.

More travel?  We will, of course, still be travelling at every opportunity we get!   We’ve just been camping for a long weekend near the beach, and there are also a lot of places we haven’t been to on this side of the world. We just won’t be doing the long term travel again; at least until the boys have finished their education. We do hope to see some of you here in sunny Brisbane at some stage ?!

New school.

New school.








What’s next?   We have no idea where or what we are going to be doing in the future, we are seeing what life brings us.



Ben is working on a round up of our travel statistics and tips on the Stats & Travel Tips page, this is aimed at those who might thinking about doing the same thing as us, as well as those who like numbers!  It’s good to share the knowledge and we benefitted from reading other people’s travel blogs before we made our own travel plans. Especially when it comes to budgets!


But for now it’s  goodbye from Walker Family Travels. Our gap year (and a half) is officially at an end.  This blog has been a labour of love and, we hope, a reminder of all the amazing, life changing experiences we’ve had, and shared. We appreciate you taking the time to read it.

Thanks again for travelling with us!



Posted in planning, Queensland | 24 Comments

Driving home for Christmas : Adelaide to Brisbane


Checking out the local drop!

DSC00638After the Nullarbor, we slowed down a little to visit the Clare Valley, a beautiful wine region north of Adelaide. The wineries are relaxed and we enjoyed a glass or two (less for Ben) at both the Mad Bastard and Sevenhill Vineyards.   We particularly enjoyed the tour at Sevenhills, as it’s the oldest vineyard here, run by Jesuit monks to make altar wine. They now make some lovely commercial wines too, and we even played a family game of cricket in the stunning grounds – howzat!






Slide called THE BIG WEDGIE!

AdDSC00730elaide was somewhere we all wanted to see, but we just happened to arrive in time for a record heatwave here – it was over 43 degrees for  3 days in a row. So we were indoor tourists during the day, and beach tourists at night! Adelaide Museum has a great opal display to look longingly over, and Glenelg Beach was gorgeous for swimming and people watching (and giant slides for the boys). We were very impressed by Adelaide as it is a small friendly city surrounded by gorgeous beaches on one side and scenic hills on the other – all within 30 mins drive!  We even stayed in a  lovely area called Walkerville.


Sunset at Glenelg


Trying out the wines at Jacobs Creek.

Trying out the wines at Jacobs Creek.


Paddleboat "Melbourne"

Paddleboat “Melbourne”

From Adelaide we headed north into even hotter temperatures – travelling through the other well-known wine region the Barossa Valley – the Penfolds cellar door had some good wine on sale for Christmas!DSC00891

Our next stop was Mildura, and a record 46 degrees (hottest place in Australia that day), where we did a paddleboat journey on the mighty Murray River. If it hadn’t been so hot we’d have enjoyed this little oasis of river and agriculture even more. But the heat was a good excuse to spend the afternoon watching the new Star Wars movie in blissfully cold air conditioning!

Beautiful Barossa Valley (but we preferred the Clare Valley).

Beautiful Barossa Valley (but we preferred the Clare Valley).

Heading north again, we drove across the Hay Plains; dust, farms & wheat fields as far as the eye  can see.  It was so dry we could see mini willie-willies in the distance forming funnels as they lifted the dust high into the sky.  The radio was full of bushfire warnings too. (Later we saw the devastation on the Great Ocean Road as fires destroyed towns and homes along this stunning coastline, so sad.)

Our new home!

Our new home?

DSC01088Then it was to Dubbo to visit the awesome Taronga Western Plains Zoo. The enclosures are so large here you drive around the zoo in your car, stopping for photos and keeper talks. Unfortunately, the hot weather broke and it rained heavy and constant all day, so we had to do a second day to make the most of our visit, but if you ask Ollie it was worth it, especially when he got to interact with the wallabies.


DSC01178Then we were on the home stretch to Brisbane, via the pretty country town of Goondiwindi and through the beautiful Mount Tamborine region – making it to Brisbane on Christmas Eve! Hurray!!

So we did it, 5,000 kms in just over two weeks, across a vast landscape of deserts, wheatfields, crystal coastlines, laidback Aussie towns and cities, and excellent vineyards.  It felt quite momentous arriving back where we’d started 6 months ago after completing a complete lap of this vast, incredible country.

We could now relax and enjoy a fantastic Aussie Christmas with my family, followed by a chilled New Year watching the fireworks over the Brisbane River.  Here we toasted to whatever the New Year brings us; let’s just hope it will be as amazing as 2015, for all of us!

Finally, thank you to everyone who supported, helped, questioned, laughed at, accommodated or journeyed with us on this trip, either physically or via this blog.  We really have appreciated your time and interest and at times you have inspired us too with your comments and best wishes. THANK YOU SO MUCH.



Finally, a few examples of Aussie humour:


NOT our lunch stop!

Most Aussies are a friendly!

Most Aussies are a friendly!

Posted in QLD Australia | 8 Comments

Return to OZ. Travelling across the Nullarbor.


It’s always nice to return to somewhere familiar, and so it was for us back in lovely Perth. Although once again it was to be a short visit, long enough to check in with our family (thanks for the hospitality Tim), pick up the car & camper-trailer from Penny’s (thank you again for keeping them safe), and washing & repacking our bags ready for the next part of the trip.

The Swan River

The Swan River

We did a little bit of sightseeing, doing a tour of the fascinating historical Freemantle Prison, just the right amount of interesting and squeamish. The boys then had another great sleepover with Auntie Penny & their cousin Charlotte, who totally spoiled them with Xmas lights and board games that used whipping cream!



Fun but really messy game!

Ben and his brother Tim managed to fit in a decent bike-ride along the Swan River and a pub visit. We squeezed in a walk down the East Fremantle Fair Markets (very different to Thailand), and cousin Megan & her boyfriend Ben cooked us dinner the day after Ben (her’s not mine!!) had completed an epic Ironman Event (we were SO impressed that he could still walk). A bit of Xmas shopping, then we were off once again, but saddened we couldn’t spend more time with the Perth Walkers!


Now old hands at Outback travel, we embarked upon our 5,000km journey across the bottom of OZ with less trepidation than last time, knowing what it’s like to do LONG days in the car. We headed to Kalgoorlie first, the home of the ‘SuperPit’, a massive gold mine. Unfortunately there had been severe weather a few days before we arrived, so we weren’t able to the tour we had booked, but we were able to see this impressive hole in the ground from the viewing area. It’s immense, the massive CAT trucks looking like tonka trucks as they travel up and down the inside of the pit transporting the gold-ladened rocks. Ben was entranced!


See the tiny trucks on the road on the right?

Ben’s Superpit facts:

  • The SuperPit is 3.5kms long, 1.5kms wide and 560metres deep
  • 30 CAT trucks drive 24hrs a day carrying 280 tonnes each trip
  • trucks costs $4.4M each and carry 3,000 litres of fuel @ cost of $4,800
  • for every 7 trucks is approx 1 golf balled sized amount of gold worth $1.5M.
  • the trucks are mainly driven by LADIES ‘cos they last longer!

Ben also took the boys to the mining museum, where they got to sit in one, and went to see a mine blast (very loud & lots of dust).




Our unusual accommodation

Our unusual accommodation

The old mining towns have beautiful civic buildings

The old mining towns have beautiful civic buildings


From Kalgoorlie we headed off to tackle the Nullabor Plain, the ‘treeless plain’  a virtual desert that sweeps across the bottom of Australia, seen as being an epic road trip here, stopping at the scattered roadhouses for fuel and rest.

Doing it the hard way!

Doing it the hard way!

There’s not a lot here to see, but that’s not the point of it, it defies you with its scale and remoteness.  Despite it being summer, we were fortunate that the weather was unseasonably cool, in the low 20’s for our desert crossing. But it still made for a very long journey, which the boys took in their stride, watching DVDs mostly.



Now 2,000kms from Perth, we stopped at a once-vital old telegraph station at Eucla, now being slowly reclaimed by the shifting sands (I wanted to recreate a photo I had taken here when I was 2). We stayed overnight and had a fantastic meal in a roadhouse at Border Village, then we crossed the border into South Australia for our first time (ever for Ben).

Part of the US Skylab satellite that came down here in the 70s.

Part of the US Skylab satellite that came down here in the 1979s, the Aussies sent the US Govt a $400 littering fine, as a joke. The US President Jimmy Carter actually called the Balladonia Roadhouse to apologise for it landing in their backyard!

Eucla telegraph station

Eucla telegraph station

DSC00595Here, once you hit the coastline, the views are incredible.  This is the Great Australian Bight, kms of pristine coastline, and in May-June, a nursery for Southern Right Whales (we’ve got this on our bucket list).  We camped for a couple of nights at Ceduna, famous for oysters and went crabbing.   Not bad way to spend a week!



Rabbits were introduced in 1859 for hunting as sport but soon became a major plague problem in Australia. They still cause huge amounts of damage here, as do feral cats.

DSC00436Now, we are driving up to Brisbane in time for Christmas, via Adelaide, then north through the wheat belt, vineyards and fruit farms that cover inland Australia.  So Merry Christmas to you all, and wishing you a fabulous festive season, wherever you may be!



Posted in Western Australia | 4 Comments

Thailand – Chiang Mai to Bangkok


Making Krathong with Dear.

Making Krathong with Dear

We returned to Chiang Mai refreshed and ready for the festival season. The Thai people love a good procession, and the odd lantern or 10,000, so it’s an excellent time to visit and celebrate Loy Krathong (the banana leaf flora floating festival – literally floating your bad luck away) and the Yi Peng where 10,000 large sky lanterns are blessed and released at once, creating a spectacular of light and beauty. In the city of Chiang Mai, there were enormous sparkly floats, dancers, lantern and occasional torrential rain, completing the festive atmosphere. Dear and her family once again made sure that we enjoyed all that Chiang Mai has to offer, we felt privileged to stay with such a lovely family in their beautiful home.


With the lovely Dear and her parents at Le Saichan



In Chiang Mai we also decided to refresh our memories of the local sights with our friendly taxi driver Mr Wit, visiting the temple on the mountain Doi Suthep, BhuBing Palace (the holiday home of the King & Queen) and the Baan Tong Luang Tribal Village which is a tourist village made up of families from the different hill tribes in Thailand. It felt a bit like a cultural Disneyland, but gave us a little flavour of the diverse range of cultures in Thailand.

Village tribes.

Village tribes.

Long-neck Karen tribe.

Long-neck Karen tribe.





To complete our Thai culinary education we took an evening cooking course with the funny and lovely Mam at We Cook. The four of us cooked up a feast of local dishes and once again ate until we were crying for mercy!




12291884_515460988625862_8978115629310579415_oAs a final treat for the boys we spent the day at BaanChang Elephant Paradise, for a crash course in elephant riding and care with Bird and his brother Jonny. It was lovely to spend time with these gentle giants, and we loved being in the lake brushing them down and getting sprayed with water by the elephants to reward our efforts – dodging the big yellow bombs they occasionally dropped made it all the more challenging and fun!!


12279086_515451128626848_4047107684678202203_n12273754_515463675292260_8547287125561713096_oFrom here, it was a quick few days in one of our favourite cities, Bangkok, dragging the boys around yet another collection of markets (although they always find something they ‘must have’), and travelling by the various death defying modes of transport that they have here – anyone tried the Klong speed- ferries – they collapse the roof when you go under a bridge?!  The boys favourites were these ‘future’ rollers – lots of fun!




Ben going native again!

Ben going native again

Now it’s back to Australia, pick up the car and camper trailer, to drive across the Nullarbor Desert and up to Brisbane in time for Xmas.  5,000kms in 2 weeks? No problem!

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Thailand – From Chiang Mai to Pai

Our bungalow home at Le Saichan

Our bungalow home from home at Le Saichan.

We came to Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand ready for some down time after nearly 3 months in SE Asia. Ben and I had visited before in 1997 with my cousin Sharon, and we struggled to recognise it, so much has changed, except that it is still a really friendly place to be. This trip we stayed in the area of San Sai, about 30 mins north in a gorgeous bungalow owned by the lovely Dear and her family on their former teak plantation, called Le Saichan. It’s a little slice of heaven and a great place for us weary travellers to have a bit of a rest.

A new job for Ben - tuk tuk driver?

A new job for Ben – tuk tuk driver?





DSC09052We did, however, rouse ourselves from the sun-loungers long enough to take the boys into town for a walk around the old walled city of Chiang Mai.  With an unexpected highlight being the 3D- Art in Paradise gallery  which turned into 3 hours of photography fun as you can probably see from the photos.

Walking Street is where the longest street market in Thailand is held every Sunday evening. We love markets and despite it being crazy-busy it did not disappoint, as the stalls are interesting, varied and good value. We ate amazing BBQ pork here, followed by Mango Sticky Rice (a firm Walker family favourite) from the street stalls.

Cameron - always the first to check out the street food stalls

Cameron – always the first to check out the street food stalls

Thailand is the easiest Asian country that we have travelled in so far, being an eclectic mix of modern and traditional, with the most friendly people you’d hope to meet.  They are also very aware of the need for tourism here and the government makes a big effort to keep them coming – it’s clean, relatively safe and accessible.   And did I mention that the shopping is great??


Retail therapy at one of the large shopping malls.


Another educational day was spent visiting the Elephant PooPooPaper Park where they have taken recycling to a whole new level. Once you forget you are dealing with Poo it’s quite fun to get stuck in and make some paper – it is a very tactile experience!


Making PooPoo Paper!

Chiang Mai is surrounded by the most beautiful mountain ranges, and so to see more of it we took the exhilarating drive to the pretty town of Pai (pronounced Pie), through the mountain range and nestled in a valley. But it’s not a trip for the weak-stomached since the 135km road famously has 762 curves!


DSC01617We decided to spent 4 days here in Pai, soaking in the cool hippie vibe it’s famous for (SO many dreadlocks!), hiring bikes and a scooter to get around. Ben took the boys on the scooter to the Piranha Fishing Park where Ollie caught a decent sized fish (thankfully not a flesh-eating variety), while Cameron checked out the café – he’s become a pre-teen in constant need of food. Fortunately, food in Thailand is amazingly tasty and cheap! Ollie’s favourite being Grandma’s pancakes, where he bought so many that she decided to teach him how to make them one evening! To get active after all the lovely food, we bicycled around the town, and Ben nearly killed us going up the steep hills – if there had not been a great coffee shop at the top I would not have made it!

Making pancakes with 'Grandma"

Making pancakes with ‘Grandma’

View from our hotel in Pai

View from our hotel in Pai



DSC09163After a few heady days in Pai the boys and I got the mini-bus back to San Sai, while Ben decided to upgrade to a slightly larger moped (not the one pictured!) and challenge himself by riding the mountain pass back– I have never seen him so dirty and tired as when he finally rode through the gates of Le Saichan 5 hours later!


Pai – Thailand is just SO beautiful.


Posted in Thailand | 4 Comments

Laos, land of a million elephants.

Luang Prabang.

Luang Prabang, Laos.

Today we arrived in Laos, marking another ‘new’ country for us.  But it also marked a moment when we could actually measure the impact that travelling has had on the boys when the first thing they asked our airport taxi driver was how to say hello and thank you in his language. Both boys now take new countries and new cultures in their stride, determined to be able to speak at least a little of the local language, and develop some understanding of the culture they are in. And here in Laos we saw that in action at a charitable organisation called Big Brother Mouse in the City of Luang Prabang. It is aimed at helping young Laos people to learn to read, but also as a venue where tourists can help teenagers to practise their English. The boys wanted to help, and so we sat chatting with students in their early twenties who asked us to explain quite challenging aspects of English vocabulary to them. I must say that I was struggling to explain the difference between a tournament and a championship, myself. But we listened in awe, and a huge amount of pride, as the boys patiently and confidently came up with clever and imaginative examples to help the students learn.

Holding court at Big Brother Mouse

Holding court at Big Brother Mouse

Luang Prabang itself held further surprises.  We didn’t have time to do a lot of research on this destination, and so were delighted to find ourselves in such a beautiful and intriguing city.  It is actually more like a large town, located on a stunning peninsula surrounded by the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers, with intermingled streets of French colonial architecture and golden Buddhist temples.  It’s quite beautiful.



Luang Prabang is also well known for the Monks Almsgiving ceremonies that take place here each morning around 5.30am, when a few hundred monks from the local temples walk along the streets to silently receive alms or ‘food’ from the locals, and some tourists, for their meals. It is a simple and humbling event to watch, however, (and we had read about this there beforehand) some tourists are really disrespectful, putting flashing cameras into the monks faces, or putting pre-packaged foods into the monks bowls (which they cannot eat),  Strangely, it seems to be mainly Asian tourists that behave this way, and some of the people selling the inedible food are local Laos.  So take from that what you will.  We watched the ceremony from a good distance on one of the side streets, and were rewarded for our respectful behaviour by getting a ‘good morning’ from the head monks, and one even came over to give the boys some of the crisps and jellies he had received in his bowl.




With Liam

Monks here seem to be a very important part of the Laos culture.  We were fortunate to be able to spend a day with Liam, who we hired to be our guide for a day, and who had also spent 10 years as a monk in one of the local temples.  He was more than happy to talk about his life as a monk.  He left his village home at 13, as he did not want a life of early marriage and farm work ahead of him, so he came to Luang Prabang and went around the temples until one agreed to take him on as an apprentice, and in return for daily devotions and an ascetic life, he would gain a free education.  He told us about a holy festival where all the monks have to sleep in the forest surrounding the Peacefulness Temple for 15 nights (with no tents!) and only eat once a day. Can’t imagine Cam & Ollie doing that!  For many boys however, this is the only chance to get an education, although there is unfortunately not yet an option for the girls of poorer families.  They are more often taught a trade such as weaving or paper-making that allows them to make a living.  Despite the glamour of the French influence here, this is a still a very poor country and many of the young people we met came from villages with little infrastructure such as no electricity or proper roads.


Wat Xiengthorn

Wat Xiengthorn

You really don't want to be naughty here!

You really don’t want to be naughty here!

Temple doors.

Temple doors.

The temples here are different to those we’ve already visited, with the local style being more vibrant and colourful.  The outsides are painted in red with bright glass mosaics and the inside in in dramatic black with gold stencilling.  The boys particularly enjoyed the graphic depictions of “hell” that they found.


As we’ve remarked before, it’s the people that make a place, and just from striking up conversations you can find out the most interesting things.  The boys went on a play date with the children of the managers of our guesthouse, who were two Aussie and American families.  The boys got to have some quality Lego time, while also finding out about what it’s like to be expats living in Laos.   While Ben & I heard all about their new venture to start the first cheese & yoghurt dairy in Laos using the local water buffalo.  We also shared a tuk-tuk to the Kwangsi Waterfalls with Aiden, an Irish gent, who is also a UN elections monitor when he’s not travelling for fun.  An ex-Aussie restauranteur who now cooks vegetarian food in a monastery in Cambodia, and a retired grandmother who does incredible voluntary work all around the world because she wants to be useful in her retirement. We met her at the new Kwangsi Falls Butterfly farm, opened by a Dutch couple who themselves had recently sold everything in Holland to start a new life in the Laos mountains!  Really inspiring people!DSC08868DSC01463

We also went one evening to see some traditional Laos storytelling.  It was full of funny and interesting local myths, accompanied by drum and the ‘khane’, a tDSC08634raditional wind instrument made from bamboo.  To complete our arts curriculum we signed the boys up for wood-carving day with a great initiative called BackStreet Academy.  Here they offer day programmes to learn local arts and crafts with skilled local artisans.  The boys spent the day with a master-craftsman making a wooden elephant and a pig, using traditional tools.  It was really hard work, but they came away with some fantastic souvenirs and an appreciation for the level of skill needed to work with wood.









Food street! Ben's favourite place in the town.

Food street! Ben’s favourite place in the town.

We only had time for a short visit to Laos, and we would love to visit again and explore more of the mountainous countryside.  Although the sheer number of UXO or Unexploded Ordinance here in Laos, particularly in the countryside, is hindering development of trekking here as a tourist pastime.  Approximately 2 million tonnes of bombs were dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War, and 30% remains unexploded and still active.

DSC08505Dangerous and expensive work to remove these UXOs is being carried out, but still people are maimed and injured across South East Asia every day, with children often being the innocent victims, as they are curious and pick them up.

But don’t let me put you off, it’s a fascinating, beautiful country and well worth a visit before tourism changes it too much.  Plus, I think there are only about 900 elephants left.


The Utopia bar - where you are encouraged to have a nap!

The Utopia bar – where you are encouraged to have a nap!


Night markets and Royal Temple

Night markets and Royal Temple

Posted in Laos | 5 Comments

The Temples of Angkor



If Cambodia is the Kingdom of Wonder, then the Temples of Angkor are the jewels in the crown.

Causeway at Angkor Wat

Causeway at Angkor Wat

Our first view of Angkor Wat was overwhelming, for the sheer magnificence of its scale and setting alone. We stood at the entrance to the wide stone causeway that spans the lake sized moat, with our mouths open, as our local guide reminded us that we were only at the entrance to the temple complex. Five ornate tiered gateways (two of which were designed for elephants) lead to the main Wat or temple. Angkor Wat is crowned by five tall graduated towers of relief-carved sandstone that seem to reach out of the jungle behind, truly deserving to be one of the man-made wonders of the world (and, of course, a UNESCO World Heritage Site).



Photograph by Cameron

Angkor Wat is the most well known temple, and the national symbol of Cambodia, however it is only one of over 250 temples in this region alone. As you drive around you are a little overawed by the ambitious temple building programme of the Khmer Kings. There are so many in fact that we bought a three day pass to try to see as many as possible, starting in the mornings or evenings when it was a little cooler to walk around. Ben even got up at 4am to see the sunrise over Angkor and walked up a steep hill to see the sunset too one afternoon – the lengths he will go to in order to get the ‘shot’! He challenged the boys to take some pictures too and they came away with some fantastic photographs, as you can see.   It is hard to explain but Angkor really gets under your skin.  And there is just so much of it to see!

Photograph by Oliver

Photograph by Oliver

DSC07915Ta Prohm was one of our family favourites, as it has only been partially restored and still retains some of the ’jungle’ growing through it, as Angkor Wat was when it was rediscovered in the 1860s. Ta Prohm was also used as a location in the Tomb Raider movie due to its almost magical ambiance.


Ta Prohm


The largest temple is Angkor Thom, that is actually a 10 km2 city of temples built by King Jayavaman VII in the late 12thC, including the mysterious Bayon Temple covered in huge Buddha faces, and the Baphuon Temple which has an enormous reclining Buddha as one of its sides.




Gate to Angkor Thom


Temple of Banteay Srei

Siem Reap, the town that supports Angkor is also a revelation – it’s a city of two halves. Yes, it’s full of tourists and bars, markets and restaurants, there’s even an area called Pub Street, but it’s also quite charming with its river, wide avenues and gorgeous public gardens. We stayed in the Wat Bo Village area, a short tuk-tuk ride from the centre of the action, in a Khmer owned small boutique hotel called Suon Angkor, and our room was the original family home, a two bedroom traditional wooden house (a smaller version of the Ancient Houses of Battambang) nestled within the new hotel complex – unusual but interesting. From here we discovered the temples by day and enjoyed all that Siem Reap has to offer at night. As those of you who follow Facebook will already know, it’s also where we walked passed Angelina Jolie and some of her family one night, out for their own stroll around the town (sadly without Brad), a ‘ wow’ moment for us all.



Mmm...crunchy crickets for dinner.

Mmm…crunchy crickets for dinner.

To better understand the Khmer culture we visited the Angkor National Museum, which included an incredible display called the Gallery of A Thousand Buddha’s, the boys just loved it (sadly no photos allowed). We also went to an Khmer barber shop where Ben got the shortest haircut of his life, after which Ollie refused to have his hair cut at all – but we made him, 3 dollars a cut was a bargain after all! Cameron got his ‘spa’ fix by having another massage and charmed all the stallholders in the market place to get the best deals on his souvenirs.

So, if you are looking for somewhere different for your next holiday could I suggest Siem Reap? It’s got a bit of everything, amazing temples, lovely people, great markets & nightlife, is still very good value for money and it even has an international airport – what are you waiting for?


Photography by Cameron

Photography by Cameron

Posted in Cambodia | 4 Comments



One of Battambang’s Ancient Houses

Battambang is about 5 hours NW of Phnom Penh, and for us was a lesson in crazy driving in Cambodia. Our driver seemed determined to get us there as quickly as possible using any part of the road necessary with no regard for things such as oncoming traffic – simply terrifying is an understatement. We were very glad to make it to our beautiful (and upgraded) hotel Maisons Wat Kor. Our original hotel was full so they happily sent us to their boutique sister hotel, and it was like walking into a little lush jungle paradise. The rooms were French colonial style with high ceilings, massive beds and dark wood throughout, so lovely. We had two connecting rooms and as there were no other guests – exclusive use of the pool, and it was less than GBP 50 only per night for 2 huge rooms.  Accommodation in Cambodia is relatively cheap but also very good quality, as we confirmed when we checked into our original hotel, the Sanctuary Villa, which was just as lovely.
DSC01057For foodies who might be interested we’ve found the food in Cambodia to be very good with curries and stews being the main diet here.  Here at MaiWat Kor it was fine dining Khmer-French fusion style – beautifully presented and delicious.


Fried Frangipani Flowers

Fried Frangipani Flowers







Dinner at Maisons Wat Kor

Dinner at Maisons Wat Kor

After consulting our trusty Lonely Planet we decided to visit the Ancient Houses in Wat Kor village, which turned out to be next to our hotel. They are elevated wooden teak houses built during the early 1900s with high ceilings and feet polished mahogany wide floorboards. At one of the houses’ Mrs Bun’s house’ we got talking to the niece of the owner, Mrs Bun, and arranged to come back the next day for a traditional Khmer lunch cooked by her mother-in-law, which included the delicious Fish Amok.  During our lunch conversation, in a mix of English, Khmer and French (the older generation all speak French here) we learned that Mrs Bun had inherited the houses after all of her family were killed during the Khmer Rouge period. They now run it as a museum and homestay.

Fish Amok - Khmer Traditional Food

Fish Amok – Khmer Traditional Food

With Mrs Bun's family

With Mrs Bun’s family


Sticky sweet rice cooked in bamboo

Roadside snack -sticky sweet rice cooked inside bamboo sticks on BBQ.

Battambang, as a town, was a bit of a disappointment as there is not much to it, but we enjoyed a day out touring the surrounding villages and temples with our remork (tuk-tuk) driver.

With our tuck-tuk driver

Fish paste making - very stinky - the boys refused to watch!!

Fish paste making – very stinky – the boys refused to get too close!!


We did visit the crazy Bamboo Train, a system of bamboo boards on removable train wheels, driven by a 6.5hp lawn-mower engine. These homemade ‘trains’ rattle along the old French railways tracks at considerable speed – terrifying when you see how warped the old line is! There is only one line so when there is another ‘train’ is coming towards you, the carriage with the smallest number of people gives way by getting off, lifting its carriage off the track, then putting it all back on again once you’ve passed! Tiring but ingenious!

“Super-scary, it made a loud ker-klunking noise – I thought I was going to get thrown off and die!” Ollie.


Bamboo Railway

We also went to see DSC07863the local circus troupe called Phare, which performed an hour long feast of acrobatics, music and humour that we all loved. Phare is an important local charity, now running a free school for over 1,200 children, who also count circus skills in their curriculum. The best graduates perform for the public, and some turn professional and have gone on to join Cirque du Soleil.

Cameron with the cast of Phare

Cameron with the cast of Phare

I definitely got shivers when the ghosts started spinning down from the roof in the show called ‘Chills’. I absolutely loved the circus show!” Cam.


But as usual it is the people that make a place, and we had the good fortune to meet up with 4 lovely American ladies who were great fun and even taught the kids how to do Yoga – thanks Nancy, Susan, Sam & Debbie. And would you believe it another two guests, Bob and Paul, live in the next town from us at home, and we even have mutual acquaintances! Big world?…no, quite small really.DSC01071

Our next stop is the town of Siem Reap and the famous temples of Angkor Wat.




Getting a lift in the hotel's Army Jeep!

Getting a lift in the hotel’s Army Jeep!

Crazy roads!

Crazy roads!

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A Perfect Paradise Retreat at Lazy Beach.

Serendipity Beach at Sihanoukville

Serendipity Beach at Sihanoukville

Catching the boat to Koh Rong Samloen.

Catching the boat to Koh Rong Samloen.

Sihanoukville is on the Lonely Planet ‘10 places to watch’ list and it is definitely a growing backpacker destination in the south of Cambodia with beaches, hostels, bars, and partying – not really our scene – we came here to catch the boat to Koh Rong Samloen Island two hours off the coast. Our destination was the low key, quiet, Lazy Beach bungalows. It had been recommended by other travelling families and described as ‘how the islands in Thailand looked before mass tourism.’ Lazy Beach only has 18 wooden bungalows scattered along a private pretty beach with one large outdoor bar/restaurant area serving fantastic food and cocktails with large padded seats and board games to play with the kids.




Lazy Beach – the view from our beach bungalow

No cars! Only a tractor to move the luggage.

No cars! Only a tractor to move the luggage & boys.

The island has no electricity and only runs its generators from 6pm to 6am, so there is no wifi, phone or even electricity during the day, so you are forced to relax, chat, read or swim.  It was very liberating not having any access to the internet or phones. This is the end of the rainy season so the weather was hot during the day but with the most incredible tropical thunder and lightning at night that lit up the whole sky – spectacular and scary as  it cracked overhead shaking our shack!

Heaps of hermit crabs on the beach.

Heaps of hermit crabs on the beach.



Our beach bungalow


Here’s Cameron’s report on his 11th Birthday:
Sun, Sand and Smoothies – what more could a boy want on his birthday! We took a small local boat from Sihanoukville to Lazy Beach, for our pretty 2 hour journey to the island. We were greeted by the staff and walked along the dock, peering down into the glass-clear blue water, with hundreds of tiny fish swimming around – we desperately wanted to jump in! It was so beautiful. There were some other kids staying here too so we had fun playing in the ocean with them. But time to get to my favourite part – my birthday! I woke up extra early to wake everyone up for present time. My Mum & Dad got me some brilliant new headphones, sunglasses and some new cool t-shirts. Then it was time for a long refreshingDSC07655 swim and finally a rest swinging in the hammock. That afternoon we sat with a lovely New Zealand couple, David and Wendy, who we had met the day before. Then I heard some people singing “Happy Birthday” behind me and the staff brought over a huge mango cheesecake with Happy Birthday on it all cut out from carrots. It was “the Best Birthday Ever! ” Another guest Jonathan wrote me a great poem and his girlfriend, Qi, taught Ollie & I how to play table tennis Chinese style. The whole time we felt like we were on a desert island – it was amazing.”DSC07701

With Wendy & David.

With Wendy & David.

Koh Rong Samloen has been a fantastic rest stop on our fast-paced trip around South East Asia.

But now it’s time to leave island life and head into north-western Cambodia to the city of Battambang.


Can you spot the bungalows? This is eco-tourism at its best.

Just chillin'

Just chillin’

Spectacular sunsets.

Spectacular sunsets.

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Phnom Penh, Cambodia

DSC07334WDSC07371e caught the tourist boat from Vietnam into Phnom Penh, Cambodia along the Mekong River and our first impression was of a quieter, more affluent city with much less of the hustle and bustle of the cities in Vietnam – certainly a lot less scooters! Our accommodation at the fabulous One Up Banana Hotel was located in the expat & tourist area and the number of brand new luxury cars here (mostly big 4wds) was extraordinary. Although once you get out of the city you are confronted by such poverty that it makes you realise the division of wealth here is at its most extreme.

Ben goes native- Khymer style!

Ben goes native- Khymer style!

I hate to admit it but we did take advantage of the westernisation of this part of town by going to Costa Coffee a few times. They have ordinary coffee here, which we were craving, but also really good air conditioning! Cambodia is a little cooler than Vietnam but it’s still hot, thirsty work walking around cities. We do usually prefer to spend our money in locally owned establishments if possible though. Money is confusing here, as everything is priced in USD dollars (you can get them out of the ATM), but your change often comes back in a mix of dollars and Riel, the local currency. I am hopeless at this, and have no idea if am getting the right change – thank god Ben knows what he’s doing.

Travelling in the jeep!

Travelling in the jeep!


It was also Oliver’s 9th birthday while we were in Phnom Penh, so we wanted to do some kid-friendly sightseeing and Oliver chose to spend a day at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary about an hours’ drive outside the City. This is the only conservation centre for animals rescued from private ownership or injured wildlife, and they rehabilitate and return 90% of the animals to the wild. Here we met many gibbons who had, unfortunately, been kept as pets and not treated very well, but they still crave human companionship wanting you to scratch their backs through the bars. It is also the headquarters of the ‘Free The Bears’ Australian charity that finds and cares for Sun & Moon Bears. Then we saw an DSC07300elephant with a prosthetic leg and were ‘sprayed’ on by an unfriendly Tiger. Ever had that happen to you, it’s not pleasant!




DSC07247On the day of Ollie’s 9th birthday we went to Kids City, here’s his take on it:

Kid’s City is a big 8 story building where each floor had a different activity. The first floor we did was Rock Climbing with 25 different climbing walls, my favourite was called the Stairway To Heaven, which was 12 poles in an oval shape getting higher and higher and you had to jump up to the next pole until you were about 20 feet off the floor, then you had to hold onto your harness and jump down the middle which was great fun, but you kept banging into the poles on your way down. My Mum was too scared to watch me, even though I was wearing a harness.

DSC07443DSC07415Next Cam and I went to the Laser Tag floor where we played with other kids from different countries in different zones and with flashing lights and obstacles to shoot from and hide behind. I got Most Accurate and Most Trigger Happy! Our last floor was the science discovery where I got to ride a high wire bicycle and Cameron went in a gyro sphere machine like they use to train astronauts. He said it as fun but I didn’t want to get dizzy hanging upside down.


DSC07510DSC07479When we got back to the hotel Cameron had planned a surprise birthday cake for me with layers of cream jam and cute little Sun Bears on top. It was an awesome birthday.”

But it wasn’t all fun and games, we also fitted in an educational trip to the National Museum to see the statues and antiques from some of the temples destroyed during the Khmer Rouge era and also to the Royal Palace which was very beautiful and serene. They have great displays in the Silver Pagoda of some of the gifts received by the Royal Family over the years, so lots of gold, diamonds and silver ware. It is still rainy season too, so we are wearing disposable raincoats in all our photos but it doesn’t last long and is still really hot.


The Royal Palace

The Royal Palace

Finally, Ben went to the Killing Fields, a must do if you want to understand the more recent dark history of the Khmer people.  They have a memorial at Choeung Ek Village, and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, both of which give an account of the terrible atrocities carried out under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge Régime in the 1970s, against their own people.  It is estimated that around 2 million people were killed at this time, out of a population of only 8 million. It is impossible to speak to anyone here in Cambodia who has not lost multiple members of their families during this period.  Their stories are shocking and tragic, but like all survivors they want people to understand how this could have happened in our recent past to avoid it happening again – if only it were that simple.


School used as a prison during the Khmer period.





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