Posts Tagged With: Cambodia

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

We only spent a few short days sightseeing in the bustling city of Phnom Penh—the capital of Cambodia. Since leaving Thailand and entering Cambodia the pace of travel picked up quite a bit compared to all the traveling that preceded. Our return flight to the U.S. (already booked) and the consequent end of the trip was only about one month and a week away by the time we left Phnom Penh. Due to the short time left and the amount of ground left to cover, a faster pace was required, as well as being a little more selective about where to visit and for how long. Aside from the little sightseeing we did, we also said farewell to one more of our fellow travelers (Paul), while another (Jen) decided to continue traveling with Sarah and I through the rest of Southeast Asia.

Phnom Penh has a long and rich history as one of Southeast Asia’s cultural and political centers. Though, much of what travelers experience during their time there, as we did, is the relatively recent and dark history revolving around the horrible atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge was the ruling political party of Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 led by then leader Pol Pot. The leaders of the party were responsible for the mass murder and forced labor of millions of Cambodians. For more on the Khmer Rouge check out this Wikipedia page.

Most people typically visit two Khmer Rouge sites, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and The Killing Fields. Our friend George (Nepal trekking partner) visited the sites before us and suggested we visit both in one day in order to avoid prolonging the depressing experience. We chose to visit only one, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, an old high school that the Khmer Rouge converted into a prison to house and torture alleged political enemies. The buildings were full of classrooms converted to small prison cells and some larger rooms used for torturing. There were exhibits describing some of the atrocities committed and photos of the victims. It was a somber and eye opening experience. We watched a short film at the beginning describing the history of the Khmer Rouge and the prison.

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Instead of visiting The Killing Fields we chose to spend a couple hours walking around the Royal Palace. The palace sits about 100 meters from the edge of the mighty Mekong river and is surrounded by beautiful gardens. Of the palaces we’ve seen throughout our trip it’s in better condition than most. While we were there they were in the process of rehabilitating one of the buildings. The guidebook emphasized something called the Silver Padoda. We searched the entire palace complex looking for the pagoda and couldn’t find it. I mean how hard could it be to spot a silver pagoda, right? Well, it turns out that the name “Silver Pagoda” comes from the fact that a small portion of the floor inside of the pagoda is covered in silver tiles. So the pagoda itself isn’t made of silver. Too bad.

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Though Phnom Penh was a whirlwind experience it was still a memorable one. The history of the Khmer Rouge sticks with me the most. If we visited Phnom Penh again I’m not sure we’d spend anymore time than we did. Two full days seems like plenty.

Categories: South East Asia, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Floating Village Homestay in Kampong Luang

After a couple of long, interesting days, hilariously described by our guest blogger Paul, we finally arrived at the floating village and our home away from home.

The floating village is located on the Tonle Sap. The Tonle Sap is the largest fresh water lake in south east Asia with a few unique characteristics to it. The first being that it changes the direction it flows twice a year with the rainy and dry seasons. During the dry season, the lake is more like the typical lakes we have back home and runs into the Mekong River. But, during the rainy season, there is so much water that it backs up, floods, and forms one very large lake. The difference in water level from dry to rainy can be as drastic as 3 ft during the dry and 30 ft during the rainy, with an increase of over 4 times the surface area of water.

Because of this huge change in water volume and surface area for the lake, the village that we decided to stay in, Kampong Luang, actually moves locations throughout the year. As it gets drier, it moves farther out into the lake and as the lake rises it moves back closer to land.

When we were there, it was the very start of the rainy season so the lake was pretty low and the village was farther out then it is during the full rainy season. But, that being said we got there no problem.

When we arrived, we took a boat out to a floating house and were welcomed by a young mother and her adorable baby. Her and her husband (the boat driver) have been doing homestays for only a couple of months now. It was a two bedroom house, with a small hallway and back area for cooking. There was another area they had for the TV (yes, TV on a floating house), and a folding table set for eating and lounging. Since there was four of us and only one extra bedroom we were a little unsure of where we would all sleep. Turns out that the TV and eating area also can be a location where people can sleep.

Heading to the homestay.

Heading to the homestay.

Our new home for the night.

Our new home for the night.

Dave lounging in one of the many hammocks.

Dave lounging in one of the many hammocks.

Jen in the TV and eating room.

Jen in the TV and eating room.

Out host and her daughter.

Out host and her daughter.

The hall that leads to the bedrooms, kitchen, and bathroom.

The hall that leads to the bedrooms, kitchen, and bathroom.

Bedroom Jen and Paul stayed in.

Bedroom Jen and Paul stayed in.

Part of the kicthen

Part of the kicthen

Bedroom where our hosts stayed.

Bedroom where our hosts stayed.

The rest of the kitchen.

The rest of the kitchen.

Our neighbors had a monkey chained to their floating house. Not sure why...

Our neighbors had a monkey chained to their floating house. Not sure why…

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View from the hammock

View from the hammock

View from the homestay house.

View from the homestay house.

Since our day was so long and we didn’t have any place to eat lunch, we asked our host if she could make us lunch, it was 2:30 pm. She was very accommodating and had a fish delivered by boat and started cooking for us. This gave us ample time to hang out with her sweet baby girl. An hour or so later, the food was done and it was delicious. I’m not a fan of fish, but I tried it and it was ok, but everything else was perfect.

She's a cutie!

She’s a cutie!

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Our yummy lunch.

Our yummy lunch.

After the meal, the husband came back and took us out on a tour of the village. Kampong Luang is the largest floating village in Cambodia and also has all of the necessary shops so that you don’t need to leave the village to get what you need. This includes a church, school, mechanic, convenient stores, a temples, ice making factories, and so on. It was a nice break from sitting in the house. We didn’t realize this until we were there, there is no leaving the house once you’re on it since all around you is water.

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Cleaning the parts right into the water. Standard procedure.

Cleaning the parts right into the water. Standard procedure.

Crushing ice.

Crushing ice.

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These kids were using the plastic jug to slide on the boat.

These kids were using the plastic jug to slide on the boat.

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Gas.

Gas.

School and church.

School and church.

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Mobile shopping.

Mobile shopping.

Temple.

Temple.

Once back at the house we were able to watch the beautiful sunset over the village houses.  When the sun goes down, the generators come on and power all of the houses and TVs. It was somewhat peaceful before this. We still had the loud motors from the boats, but no TV. Our host family turned on the TV once the power came on and left it running even when they were not watching it. It was loud and not very peaceful, oh well. Full experience right?

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They fed us once more around 7 pm and then started to close up the house and set up for bed. Jen and Paul were in the spare bedroom under a bug net with a rather thin foam mattress. Dave and I opted for hammocks rather than the bamboo mat, which offers no cushion what-so-ever. Thankfully all of us were exhausted from the long journey so falling asleep at 7:30-8ish was no problem for us.

The next morning we were woken up at 5:30 am from the house doors opening, loud motors driving by, and all the other noises the village produced. We opted not to have breakfast and to be taken back to the shore at around 7 am. From there we headed back to the main town to catch a bus to Phnom Penh.

It was a fun experience for us all. It was a pretty short amount of time to visit the floating village. Anymore and you would have just been stuck on the boat longer. I’m glad we did it.

Categories: Cities, Outdoors, South East Asia, Traveling | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Perspiration Road–Pursat, Cambodia

Below is the posting from our final guest blogger Paul.

The four of us hopped on a bus from Siem Reap to Pursat and welcomed the air-con but not so much the 3 hour Cambodian music video. Epic it was. And when it was finally over, they played it again. I found it to be an exercise in patience, much like the entire 3 weeks I spent in the heat and humidity of Southeast Asia. Upon our arrival in Pursat the tuk-tuk drivers spotted us from outside and started waving their arms whilst running alongside the moving bus. It would have been unsettling if they hadn’t, as this is standard procedure. Lets face it, as non-Asians, we stick way out in a crowd. Our plan was to spend the night in Pursat, ride the bamboo train in the morning, and head to a floating village about 70 km away where we would partake in a home-stay.

So the one tuk tuk driver that spoke English approached us and stuck to us like a stray cat you just fed a can of quality tuna. It was off-putting, which was unfortunate, because he knew what we wanted to do, made a plan for us that sounded reasonable, but was too expensive. So we all ignored him as best we could and found a guesthouse across the street to drop our bags, wash up, and explore the town in search of eats. We eventually stumbled upon a real, rural Cambodian street market complete with wriggling fish, baskets of live bugs, pig heads, and water buffalo roaming the streets. It tickled and slapped all of the senses.

Naturally the air was already thick with moisture to which every scent seemed to hang on, from scooter exhaust, sea creatures, fried stick-meat and durian,to sweaty bodies, rotting garbage and a lingering putrescence reminiscent of stinky feet and dirty biscuit* (*word substitution by blog administrators). Or vice versa.  Ironically enough we were all quite hungry, but understandably skeptical. Enter Willia. Yes, Willia. A 25 year old Brooklyn girl who was born in Haiti and working with the Peace Corp in Pursat to bring health awareness to the people. She even spoke Cambodian and hooked us up with a noodle stand and ordered for us. A stroke of good fortune. She offered to show us around a little so we took her up on her offer and started walking towards a giant barge that was cemented into place in the river and turned into a park. Neat.

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Group with our new friend Willia.

Group with our new friend Willia.

We were walking on the sidewalk and Willia was walking her bike next to us on the street when suddenly two guys on a scooter clipped her handle bar, lost control of the scooter and did a face plant at 20 mph. We all just stood there slightly in shock, and puzzled. Naturally they had no helmets on, so when the driver finally peeled his face off the street and stood up, he looked just like he did a face plant in the street at 20 mph on a moped. It was ugly. Willia tried talking to him and slowly came to the realization that they were very drunk. That explained it. They picked up the bike, and the passenger, who was not hurt, drove the two of them away, and we walked to the park. Those are not the droids you are looking for. At the barge park I picked up on Willia’s dazed vibe and suggested we all call it a day and head back to our spaces. We had a big day ahead of us and a strange day behind us.

Floating barge.

Barge Park

Jen was able to grab a photo of the drunken scooter drivers as they drove off.

Jen was able to grab a photo of the drunken scooter drivers as they drove off. You can see blood on at the bottom of the passengers pant leg.

The next morning Sarah and Dave got up a bit earlier than Jen and I, shrugged off the stray cat/tuk tuk driver (yes, he was persistent) and sat down for their fried rice breakfast. Jen and I followed suit but my breakfast never came. Lost in translation I suppose, or severe lack thereof. But at least we had a view of some nature, in the form of dogs having sex next to our table. And yes, it was. Doggy style. From there we managed to get a tuk tuk to take the four of us to the bamboo train.

It sounds leagues more interesting than it is. Not even bamboo, but I guess no one would be intrigued if it were called a pallet train now would we. None the less (a phrase I don’t really understand) we got on the slatted wood platform with our bags and headed down the tracks toward what we thought would get us to some transportation to Krakor, the town nearest the floating village of Kampong Luang. The “train” was powered by what closely resembled a lawn mower engine with a fan belt running off a pulley from the crankshaft to a pulley on the axle of the drive wheels. The engine was loose and held in place both by the operator sitting on it and a stick. To get it to move he just took the slack out of the belt by tilting the engine. And there was a stick for braking as well, which we had to do in order to remove the train from the tracks everytime we met a train traveling in the opposite direction. The other trains were loaded with construction grade wood 5 feet high and then 8 to 10 people and their cargo on top. After 3 or 4 of these episodes we got dumped off deep in the heart of a rural farming community.

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It was like planet of the Asians and Dave was Charlton Heston. We didn’t actually get wrangled up and forced into slavery, but it felt like we had gotten out of a spaceship on a strange planet that we would later find out was Earth after the apocalypse. We shortly drew a crowd as we walked down the dirt road with our gear, and umbrellas, sweating like things that sweat very heavily. The whole time clueless as to where we were, and in which direction to walk to get us closer to the floating village. Dave was stopping every person that went by who was operating anything with wheels and an engine in hopes to make a connection and score us a lift. After about an hour my hopes of staying hydrated long enough to get out of the situation started to wane. I must admit, I began to get seriously concerned for our welfare and suggested we go back to where we got dropped off and wait for another train to take us back to Pursat and jump on a bus.

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By that time Dave was able to communicate our need for a ride to a woman who wanted $100 to get us to the floating village. Although we weren’t sure if she knew where we wanted to go. It was vague at best so we all agreed to turn around and head back. When we did, she offered again for $50 but it was still vague and too much money so we kept going. A minute or so after we left, a woman offered to take Jen and her giant bag to the bamboo train stop on her scooter. So off went Jen and her bag. I turned to Dave and said “you know now that we’re split up we will find a ride”. It’s Murphy’s law and its real because 3 minutes down the road a guy comes walking up to us and says, in very clear English, “hi, can I help you guys?” I turned to Dave and said “see”.

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Categories: South East Asia, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Ruins of Angkor

After our week of fun with the family in Phuket, Thailand half of them headed home, but Jen and Paul were able to stick around and join us for the next leg of the journey into Cambodia. The four of us booked it out of Thailand and into Cambodia so that Paul would have enough time to see as much as he could before heading home one week later. It took us only one full day to make our way from Phuket to Siem Reap, Cambodia–the gateway to the ruins of Angkor.

By this point in our trip Sarah and I were seasoned land-border-crossers, but it was a first for Jen and Paul. There’s really not much to it. You get an exit stamp from the country you’re leaving, walk through some sort of buffer zone to a building to pay for and receive your visa, and the finally walk a bit further to get an entry stamp for the country you’re entering. Most of the time this process is pretty straight forward, but occasionally you encounter someone trying to run a scam. In this case the only scam we encountered, but avoided, was a fake visa issuing building that charges double the going rate for a visa. In the case of Cambodia a visa costs about $23, which is what we paid.

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The contrast between Thailand and Cambodia was immediately obvious at the border. As soon as we entered Cambodia the feel of everything changed. Cambodia was less organized, a bit more hectic and there was far more trash lying around. Sarah and I had seen places like this and worse but it was interesting to see it settle in for Jen and Paul. Thailand is a pretty clean and well organized country by most standards, so leaving it and entering Cambodia created a whole new vibe for the trip.

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From the border we took a two hour taxi ride to Siem Reap. We researched the trip ahead of time and knew approximately what the two hour journey should cost. With a little negotiating we easily reached that price ($12 per person). Our taxi was a fly Toyota Camry from the early 90’s. Cambodia is full of Toyota Camrys. It seems like it’s the only car on the road at times. Maybe they get some sort of bulk discount. 😉

The taxi driver dropped us on the side of the road in an unknown location where a few tuk tuks (I think they call them Motos in Cambodia) were waiting to receive us. We’d read that the tuk tuk drivers will take you to your hotel for free if you agree to use them as your mode of transport around the Angkor ruins. The ruins area is a massive complex and so this is the most popular and easiest way to see them. Before knowing what the going rate for this “tour” around the ruins was we didn’t want to agree to use these particular tuk tuk drivers. So we instead negotiated on a set price to take us to the hotel of our choice. With the four of us and our luggage we had to hire two tuk tuks.

Instead of taking us to the hotel we requested, and that they originally agreed to take us to, they took us to a different hotel where they presumably hoped to receive a commission for bringing us to. We don’t like to support this kind of tactic and so refused to even look at the rooms and insisted they take us to the hotel we requested. Either because of language barrier issues or shear stubbornness, they wouldn’t take us to the hotel. So we grabbed our bags and walked away without paying them the fare. We quickly found another tuk tuk driver who was willing to take us to the correct hotel and at a reasonable price. Being the nice, honest fella he was, we decided to hire him to be our driver for the next two days to make our way around the Angkor ruins complex.

Map

The Angkor complex contains many temple ruins, with the most well known being Angkor Wat. We spent two full days touring the temples via tuk tuk and walking. Both days had beautiful skies, though the heat was a little oppressive at times. The first day of the tour consisted of seeing the temples along the large loop road (green road shown above). The second day we arose early to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat (the largest religious temple in the world) and then continued along the small loop road (red road shown above) to see a few more ruins sites. The complex dates back 1200 years and more temples are still being discovered.

For more info on the Angkor ruins check out Wikipedia or the UNESCO site. It’s an amazing place and I feel fortunate to have seen and walked in such a fascinating historical site. The pictures below don’t do it justice but I hope you enjoy them. Click on any of the images to view all of them in a slideshow format.

Categories: Ruins, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

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