Thursday, October 24, 2013


When we first landed in Siem Reap, I fell in love. I thought the place was beautiful, a nice man picked us up in a Tuk Tuk and everything seemed lovely and friendly (I still feel that way, just for the record, but I'll get into the details of that later).

We arrived at our hostel and I loved it there as well, although the top bunk of the bunk bed was VERY high off the ground. That was a little annoying but other than that it had a pool and fantastic happy hour. We arrived at about 1pm and at 2pm our Tuk Tuk driver was going to come get us from the hostel to take us on the big loop tour of the temples. He did just that and we saw quite a few temples before it started to DOWNPOUR. Our goal was to see 5 temples and then one more would be at sunset. Unfortunately, it started raining before we got to the 5th temple area so we had to call it quits. It had been raining before, but not down pouring. Then it started down pouring and we went home.

The first two temples we saw that day were pretty much the same. Ruins of temples remaining. The third one was the coolest for that day because it had been pretty overgrown by trees. The trees and the temple ruins were intertwined and it looked awesome. The last temple we saw that day was a quick visit and it was raining a lot. That was one that was surrounded by water, also pretty cool. We did quite enjoy our Tuk Tuk driver as well. Nice guy.

That night we made our way to Pub Street which is, as you could probably guess, a street lined with pubs and restaurants. It was fun to just walk around there. We had a drink and just relaxed a bit. We had to go to bed early though because we had to get to Angkor Wat for the sunrise which meant waking up at 4:45.

The next morning we did just that. On the way to the temple, our Tuk Tuk tire popped as we were rounding the corner to get to the temple. Fortunately, our drivers friend saw us and took us the last bit so we could make it for sunrise. Although it was a bit cloudy, it was gorgeous. What a sight to see. We spent some time wandering around the inside and enjoying the magnficantness that is Angkor Wat. After we finished there we went to a temple that had faces all over it. That was Brigitte's favorite temple (and it was quite cool looking). This was Angkor Thom, which was the thriving metropolis of it's time. Side note, let it be noted that you can ride elephants through Angkor Thom and it stops at many of the destinations for you. Also let it be noted that there are monkeys everywhere up in there. Anyways, we went to two other places, one was another temple with some pagoda of elephants or something and the other was a temple that they are currently working to rebuild. They've done a lot of reconstruction on it because the trees have torn it apart a bit (which we thought made it look cool) but they are working to rebuild the walls. I didn't really realize that meant they were going to do this by kind of tying rope around the structures.

By this time it was like 11am and we had been up for too long so we went home and took a nap. When that was finished, we went to the National Museum which told us a lot about the things we had just seen. Mostly it told us about the Hindu religion and Buddhism and how they are connected and not or how some formed off of others. We also learned about the rulers of Cambodia (kings) and what they accomplished for their people.

That night we went to Pub Street again for some traditional food and drinks. The traditional food of Cambodia seems to be almost exactly the same as Thailand, but less spicey and less spices (I hope no one takes offence to that as that was just my observation of the food). One really bizzare moment of that night was watching some local kids get caught for shop lifting. They were quite young, maybe 8 years old and they were sitting with wigs on by a band playing music. The guards walked by and then realized it was the kids and chased after them. Really a shocking moment as we watched the kids hand over what they had taken (not even really sure what it was) and the guards walked them away. Even more frightening was not knowing what happened to the kids for their crime.

We walked around the market a lot and quickly realized there were an INSANE amount of markets. I'm not sure how all those stalls stay in business as most of them sell the same things. But there were at least 5 different night markets filled with stalls selling things to people but there weren't nearly as many people at these markets as there were at the markets in Bangkok. At one point we also found an exceptionally cheap massage and pedicure place which I had been waiting for. We paid 3 dollars for a half hour foot massage and then I paid 3 more dollars for my pedicure. Along with that, got a free beer. That was quite awesome. When we got back to the hostel, we met a group of 3 travelers who were off to Phenom Phen that night and they happened to be staying in the same hostel as us we learned when we got there the next day.

Now Phenom Phen was where I started to fall out of love with Cambodia a little bit. NO offence to anyone, but it has been my least favorite city so far. It smelled like trash and felt very dangerous, moreso than I feel now in Ho Chi Mihn.

Riding in the van from Siem Reap to Phenom Phen was great because we got to see a lot of the country side. Cambodia is very flooded right now because of the rain and we saw that to be true. Also, they have a lot of dirt roads still which makes it a bit difficult to drive sometimes. The funny thing about the country side that has dirt roads and no running water is the fact that every little restaurant or gathering place has a sign that says "free wifi." Someone explain to me how all these little places in the middle of no where surrounded by water fields has the capability to have free wifi.

When we got to Phenom Phen, I was a little frightened. I literally thought I had stepped into a different country. It smelled like poop and garbage rotting in the sun everywhere and I was constantly afraid my stuff was going to get stolen. In fact, one night we were driving from one place to another in a Tuk Tuk and a girl we were with who lives there almost had her purse snatched right out of the Tuk Tuk. The motor bike came up right next to us and tried to grab her bag. Fortunately she had it tightly around her wrist and he couldn't get away with it. We had been warned of this and were therefore carrying no bags, but that was shocking and surprising to see.

Our first day in Phenom Phen, we arrived in the afternoon. We decided to wander around a bit and try and see some of the sights. However everything closes at 5 pm there from the monuments and museums to the street markets. After exploring the city a bit, we decided to go back to the hostel where we found our friends we had met in Siem Reap. We decided to kick it by the pool and drink at the hostel bar and just relax for the night.

The second day we knew was going to be a slightly depressing one as we had plan to go to S21 and the Killing Fields. We split a Tuk Tuk with our new English friends (I now often decide to say words in a British accent because of them) and headed to S21.

For those of you who don't know (I had no idea this even happened) this was the place that the Khmer Rouge tortured and killed people to find out information. Essentially it was like a concentration camp for people and once they got the information they wanted (even though there was often no information to be given), they would kill the person. Walking through this place which was originally a High School turned imprisonment camp turned museum, I was learning a lot about Cambodian people and the suppression they felt and received from their own people. There were prison cells the size just big enough for a person to lay in. The strangest part was that this wasn't happening too long ago and the trial is still going on to this day to deal with the people who were running the Khmer Rouge.

After wandering around these buildings for a few hours, we headed out the dusty dirty Tuk Tuk ride to the killing fields. This was a more informative experience even still because we had an audio track to help us along the way. As we walked from stop to stop, we learned and saw the places where people had been killed by whatever form the killers found most convenient. Often time it was just gardening tools because those were the cheapest option. They killed the people and just put them in a ditch. Sometimes the people weren't dead so they put some chemicals over the top of them to finish the job and keep the stench from being too bad. We also saw things like the tree where the would beat the babies against until they were dead. We even saw bones, clothes and teeth that are still surfacing to this day from the people buried under there. This surprised me a bit because these things are literally on the path. The groundskeepers come through every couple of months and collect whatever the rain water has uncovered. The last thing you see as we leave is a monument built in remembrance of the people who were killed there.

It was a pretty solemn day but fortunately, we were in good company. I have learned a lot about other countries on this trip and what they have been through. This was just one of them.

That evening we went for a swim, cleaned ourselves up and went out in the area with a girl who lives there and works in a bar. That was a fun night, saw some cool bars and some not so cool bars, almost had a purse snatched and experienced a very interesting club. I'm still quite confused about the people who were there, young and old, international students, travelers, expats, Cambodians, all there dancing away to some house music. Strangest mix I've ever seen.

The next day we relaxed a bit more, eating a nice breakfast and then packing up to head to Vietnam. Our trip to Cambodia felt very short, as will our entire trip! I'm not ready to say goodbye to Ho Chi Mihn yet but it's about to happen tomorrow :(

A few fun side notes about cambodia:

  • Cambodian kids are absolutely adorable. I want to take them all! (Korean kids still win, but Cambodian kids are in second place now)
  • They use American money in Cambodia. It's confusing because the bigger bills are American money but then the smaller "change" is given to you in Cambodian bills. I found this a bit hard to manage, but I got it eventually. 
  • We learned that if you rub dry soap on your mosquito bites, they stop itching. 
  • Cambodians as well as Vietnamese drive a bit crazier than I'm used to. They kinda just keep going. Don't really stop.
  • Everything costs money. We prayed with a monk in a temple with some incense and then he was like ok now donate money for good luck. 
That was our Cambodian experience. Good times were had. I feel like someday I want to go back there and work with the kids. Brigitte didn't want to go volunteer at any point so that was kinda sad for me, but I will make it a goal to go back and do that some day. 

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