Category Archives: Cambodia

Photos of Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, floating village and silk farm

Below are the shots I took in Siem Reap, including Angkor Wat, the silk farm and Kampong Phluk, the floating village we went to.  Angkor Wat at sunrise was the first time I really played around with the digital settings on my digital SLR. We left the hotel at 4:45, arrived around 5am, and left around 6:45. So plenty of time to play with the settings and get it just right, including manual focus – as you can see from the photos, I had a bit of fun! I really narrowed down the photos as I took hundreds that day of all the temples, and they all look the same after a while. So I just have a snapshot of them below:

Sunrise

Other temples in the day

 

Kampong Phluk

Silk Farm

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Mr Golden Stone, our guitar playing tuk tuk driver in Phnom Penh

I apologise that my blog is about a week late, but I really want to keep it per city/country, rather than a rambling update. That way it will hopefully be helpful to other fellow travellers in the future, as I found so many blogs helpful in preparing for our trip.

Our second visit in Phnom Penh really was just pure madness. Only fitting, as we did stay at the Mad Monkey. After surviving another crazy bus ride in which we swerved and lurched and honked our way through the traffic, we arrived back in Phnom Penh and as despite the rain, decided to walk to our hostel. I’d had enough of tuk tuk drivers trying to rip us off and I knew it would inevitably happen at the bus station, so off we ventured. However in Phnom Penh and lots of Asian cities in general, street signs are not their best strength. So upon stopping ad reluctantly asking a tuk tuk driver if our street was still yet to come, he offered us a free ride! And that began our two days of Mr Golden Stone, that and hearing “El, Jen!” hollered at us as he drove past at 2am the next morning.

Yes 2am. In actuality it was 5am when we got home. 2 am was when we left bar number 1, Top Banana, when they turned the lights off. I mean all the lights. But never fear, off to Love Bar we went, with a business card and a map. So easy to find! Or not so easy for our three motos. They drove around and around and mine kept separating from the other two. The initial thrill of being on a motorbike in the calm evening streets of Phnom Penh disappated and I found myself worried that I would be mugged as I was separated from everyone else. Finally after asking a few people, he found the bar. Good for him – but where were Liam and El?? I told him I wasn’t paying till they arrived, and made friends with the guard who translated for me. Finally they turned up, Liam paid his driver who took off…leaving the other two to share $1 ($2 for 3 drivers). They wanted $1 each. The guard said that we didn’t have to pay and probably shouldn’t, so we didn’t, and inside we went, to enjoy chilli cocktails and smoke machines.

On a more sombre note, we awoke the next morning to drive out to the killing fields. As depressing as it sounds, the S-21 genocide museum and the killing fields were the reason I wanted to visit Phnom Penh. What we didn’t realise until we arrived was that Phnom Penh is so much more, and you could spend a long time there. We met amazing people, at our hostels, bars and restaurants, locals and tourists alike. It really is a special place, despite their tourist attractions being so depressing. In contrast to S-21, where there are lots of things to read, the killing fields have an audiotape for you to listen to, with numbers around so you know what to listen to. It was incredibly interesting and horrifying what happened there. It is basically a huge area of grass, water, and a big memorial shrine. But the things that happened there…I still cannot comprehend how people did that. And did that to their own people.

I was already shocked after S-21, the fact that children were brought there, and so many people were tortured in horrendous ways. But to learn that if one family member was killed, the remainder were, that was too much. The belief was that to mow the grass, you had to kill the seeds. Get rid of everything. So there was a killing tree where babies were thrown against and beaten to death. The Khmer Rouge were heartless and some are yet to face trial and pay for what they did.The sad thing though is that all the perpetrators at the lower level, the soldiers and guards, were around 15 years old! They were victims themselves, and they only did it because they were afraid of being killed. It is hard to know how to view that and what to make of it.

I managed to hold back tears the entire time, apart from when music was involved. Part of the audiobook was a composed symphony piece, which was hauntingly beautiful. I found it so well composed and it really captured what I felt the killing fields would have been liked. The second time I let tears fall was when we were inside the memorial pagoda, where all the skulls are kept, and a group of monks came inside and started chanting. We were inside, and they were chanting in harmony, singing almost, holding their hands against the glass where the skulls were, with it reverbirating inside the tall pagoda. Wow. It was not the most positive day, but it was very educating and sombre and made you really think about life more. Mr Stone then opened up to us and talked about who he had lost to the Khmer Rouge, and how it has set back Cambodia by over 20 years. They basically did restart and year 0, whether they like it or not, and so many people have nothing. Money is made through corruption, like most places in South East Asia, but it is sad to see there is no middle class, and people work so hard yet go nowhere.

I took barely any photos in Phnom Penh, but I had to take photos of the Pagoda because it does represent hope and being able to turn something so horrible and depressing into something beautiful for people to come to and remember.

The memorial stupa at Choeung Ek that houses the remains of those found in the fields

Cranes inside the stupa/pagoda, from a Japanese high school

Our awesome guitar playing tuk tuk driver – Mr Golden Stone. Find him around Top Banana in the southern part of Phnom Penh.

Two days of rain at Otres Beach

I decided that after all our sightseeing, early morning excursions and visit to S-21 (the genocide museum/old prison on Phnom Penh) that we needed a break and to chill for a bit. Sihanoukville is only 5 hours by bus from Phnom Penh and is apparently beautiful. So off we went to stay at a guesthouse on beach, the farthest and least developed of the beaches, for two days of recharging, relaxation and chill out time before hectic Vietnam.

Our bus ride was interesting, with lots of swerving and quick sudden braking, followed by some off road action by our side of the bus. Despite the chaos that is Jakarta roads, I think I feel more secure in a vehicle there. There are no road rules, but people are at least courteous. Here, bigger vehicles will honk (signaling that they are passing you) and then overtake you regardless of oncoming traffic. They will drive in the middle of the road until a car driving the opposite direction might hit them. And when things seem dangerous they dont slow down, they swerve, break, and make the ride very uncomfortable. This explains why I didn’t sleep on the bus today. It was a nicer road than the one from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh but I was scared we would have a crash!!

Once we arrived however, we were scammed by tuk tuk drivers in the rain at the bus stop. Initially offering $16, I got them down to $10, knowing it should only cost $5. But they wouldn’t budge, and it was raining and my knee hurt too much to walk a km to find a reasonable price. We finally arrived at our guesthouse, cutely named “Wish You Were Here”, an ventured across the road for lunch at Richies. All the restaurants and bars at Otres beach are right on the beach. You on the ocean, and can sit ‘indoors’ (undercover) or on the beach and feel the sand between your toes. We opted for the latter everyone, even in the rain. The great thing was that everyone was so chilled out and relaxed. Restaurant owners were chatty and friendly, and both Richies and Sunshine Restaurant became our two favorite hang outs in our 2 days there.

Despite the rain on day 1, day 2 was beautiful and hot and we got our tan on. And day 3 rained so we caught the 8:15 am bus back to Phnom Penh rather than a later one. When it rains, electricity can cut out there, and we decided if it was raining in both Otres and Phnom Penh, Phnom Penh could have more things to do.

Back to reality, although I have a feeling the sand will be ingrained in my backpack through the trip, as it was hard not to get sand on your clothes, your bed and yourself! That can be my souvenir from Cambodia, sand to remind me of calming relaxing and beautiful Otres. Currently so under developed that a beach front bar costs only $27,000 (USD) to buy. In years to come when it is taken over by resorts, we can remember the red dirt roads, the cows just chilling, and the small stretch of ships and bungalow guest houses. A little hidden slice of paradise!

Angkor Wat still beautiful, despite the common local attitude

Having spent 7 years of my life living in Indonesia, and traveling extensively in my 23 years, I am quite skeptical and stand off-ish towards locals when they start chatting with you. The sad thing is that 9 times out of 10, they want something from you. Usually a donation for the ‘school they are building’ or to sell you a pair of sunglasses at 10 times the price they should be sold for, saying it is “local price”, “sunset price” or even “sexy price”. Or, as we experienced this morning, giving you incense at a temple and then demanding $10 for it, “for the monks”. I notice my lack of openness when compared with El – she replies to everyone who talks to her. I don’t because I know when they say “hi, where are you from?” it leads to “transport?” or something similar. This isn’t to say that all South East Asians try to rip you off or aren’t genuinely interested in you, but it is really hard to tell at times. Sometimes they do want to talk, like this girl at the temples today asked me what I did to my knee, and then told me she runs too, she is number 2 runner and number 1 soccer player at school. However I did end the conversation earlier than required in fear of her asking for money. El and I made a new friend in KL at our hostel, Liam, and even he agreed. When you look in need, whether you arrive in a town by bus at 5am with a heavy backpack, you are thirsty or are just interested in learning more of the local language, there are always scams and cons that you have to be on guard for. It is the sad reality of traveling through Asia.

Last time I was in Cambodia, my Dad and I spent a short 3 days in Siem Reap. I found the temples and the countryside absolutely stunning, but the attitudes of most of the locals were quite shocking. It was the worst attitude towards tourists that I’d ever faced in Asia. We got out of one taxi merely because of his attitude, rudeness and unwillingness to take us where we wanted to go. The next driver said the temple was closed, even though it wasn’t, just to save himself the hassle and petrol. Further, change was withheld when paying for small items at shops and even at our very nice hotel. Sure the change is only 50 US cents, but it is the principal of the thing – you shouldn’t have to ask for your change, and be given it begrudgingly.

I was hoping that this time things would be different. I wanted to make a conscious effort to be more open, to talk to more locals and really emerge myself a mug a possible. However day one of Siem Reap (round 2) reinforced my previously held view, which is really sad. Our tuk tuk driver and everyone at our guesthouse was lovely. However not everyone else was.

We decided to go out to Kampong Phluk, a floating village. I had been warned of the floating village scams (where they ask for donations for the school, which is not really a school), but we were recommended it by our guest house and we googled it for reviews. It seemed legitimate. But due to dry season, we were told that the boats may get stuck, so it is better to just walk. This is also cheaper as a boat is $15 each as opposed to $2 for walking. When we arrived however, we were told that you can only go in the boat, you can’t walk. After a bit of arguing, I said “fine, we will just drive in and look and if we want a boat we will come back”. He then came out and talked to our driver, along with pre-printed $2 entrance tickets, which he just said didn’t exist. It was a long 20 minute walk in 30 degree heat, blue skies not a cloud to be seen, but I refused to give in and buy a boat ticket. Like I said above – it is the principal of the thing. And then on our 20 minute walk back in the heat (the ground was cracked it was that hot) a tuk tuk drove past us, with a tourist couple inside. The woman asked whether we wanted a lift, and I desperately said yes. She asked their guide, who said no, and on they went. It is just that attitude, not wanting to go any further than they have to, or trying to rip tourists off because they can.

Further, this afternoon we talked to a guy working for a NGO in Phnom Penh who had left his wallet in his tuk tuk the night before, was taken to the driver’s house to retrieve it, only to have his money stolen out of it and more demanded from him. Somehow (god knows how) he talked his was out of the situation. He made it back to his hostel, with his wallet and his cards, but minus cash. “Worst day ever.”

Going back to our village outing, the village itself was very lovely, lots of children saying “hello” and “bye bye” or just “bye bye” without the “hello”! I also had a little naked boy (around 4 years old) run at me and slap my leg before running away giggling. Odd. The people were legitimately friendly and we weren’t approached by a single person asking for money or wanting to sell us something. The houses were all built on stilts for the wet season, and they had hammocks made up underneath their houses to hide from the heat. School children rode on bikes, and there was a little local restaurant selling food and drink. Really charming. Just somewhat tainted by the ticket seller and monopoly they have going on the boat rides.

We then visited the silk farm, which was incredibly interesting, learning about silk worms, how they are processed and how the end product is made. And best of all, it was free! We got to touch the cocoons, feel the silk, and El even ate half a dead boiled worm. Tastes like potato apparently! The process is so intricate, it makes you understand the price of silk and how much care is put into the production of it. Afterwards, we visited Angkor Wat for sunset, to buy our ticket for sunrise the following morning, and for some pretty photos. And one again, children trying to sell 10 postcards for a dollar, asking you where you are from to strike up conversation. When dad and I were here, he made the mistake of saying “maybe later” to a girl selling drinks. When we didn’t buy a drink, she hit him and told him he was a bad man and she wished him very bad luck – taught me to never say maybe!!

I will upload some photos of Angkor Wat and the other temples soon in a gallery – I think they deserve their own blog post. Further, I will update this post and my Yogya post with some photos when I get time – I was going to do it tonight, however our hotel/hostel (it is a ‘hostel’ but it is so much like a hotel, it is really nice, and only like US$12 a night!) doesn’t  have any USB ports in the computer here, so can’t plug my SD card in to put photos on. So they will come soon. Until then, I am trying to survive the intense heat here.  It was 35 degrees here today, despite a thunderstorm. I have a tan line on my leg from where my knee brace is, from just two days here. The warmth is fantastic, but gets tiring and exhausting. Sihanoukville will be nice – get some relaxing beach time, rather than temple climbing in the heat!!