A Travellerspoint blog

Cambodia

Cambodia – Sihanoukville

Playing Robinson Crusoe

storm 31 °C

Ahh, the beach again. Circling up through the highlands for the last few weeks has made us miss the relief that the sea can give you from the hot and humid weather! Sihanoukville is the premier beachside destination in Cambodia, although premier for Cambodia is very low key compared to Thailand and the destinations that most westerners are familiar with.



A relatively short bus ride of 6 hours or so got us into town and to a cheap guesthouse. $6 per night for a room for 2 people, that’s what i call value! We went out for a walk down the beachside and immediately bumped into Bastiaan and Eveline so sat down for a beer at one of the hundreds of beachside restaurants to enjoy some of the $0.50 beers. While we were there Valentina also joined us. We ended up having some really good BBQ food for dinner and more drinks for a few hours.

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After spending a day just relaxing and enjoying the seaside, we booked for a night out at Kaoh Ta Kiev. We got picked up from our guesthouse in the morning and were taken for a 45min ride along the coast where a boat met us on a beach. There was one American girl who was also coming out for a few nights. The owner of the ‘Ten103 resort’ on the island had come from town with us so explained the setup out on the island. No electricity, just a few simple tree houses, hammocks, beach and water. Sounded perfect!

The sea was a bit rough today which is why we hadn’t caught a boat all the way from Sihanoukville, but it also meant that we couldn’t take the boat back to the resort. Instead we stopped in a calmer bay and then walked through the jungle and scrubland for a couple of kilometres. When we got to ‘Ten103’ it was as we were promised, very basic but perfect. Rustic seats and hammocks perfect for a few hours reading books while looking out to the other islands.

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We bring the ice with us to the island

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We decided to go out and explore our deserted island for the afternoon. We walked along the beach and was followed by the crazy puppy from Ten103. We found a nice bit of beach for a swim before heading back. The typical late afternoon thunderstorm came through and we took shelter in the ‘restaurant’ and had our dinner. When we read up about this place, lots of people said about the good food. It was true, despite being expensive (he has to get the stuff here and has not fridge or electricity to store stuff) and not having all the usual amenities, the owner cooked up some nice dinner for us and we even had fruit and chocolate fondue for desert! That’s the kind of island I’m sure Tom Hanks and Wilson would have liked to be washed up on.

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We slept in hammocks which reminded us of a few experiences in South America, although it was a shame that the rain came through, because if it was looking like a clear night, we would have been able to string the hammocks up on the beach. We got the boat back the following morning. We could have maybe spent another night out there, but we were quite fortunate as heavy rain started while we were in the tuk tuk back to town and the rain stayed around all day long.

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We headed back up to Phnom Penh after one more night in Sihnoukville where we picked up our passports complete with a new India visa in them. We saw a couple of interesting motorbikes driving around. They really are the vehicles for all occasions!

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Five on a bike... A new record for us

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Swine moto

FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – Deserted tropical islands, not a bad way to spend a few days while you wait for a visa to be processed!

Tanya – The rain held out long enough for us to get in some beach time and the island just topped it off. In this heat and humidity I had desperately missed the sea while we were exploring inland SE Asia!

Posted by dbgomes 10:35 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia round_the_world Comments (0)

Cambodia – Phnom Penh

Capital of unbelievable suffering

For 3 years and 8 months from 17th April 1975, Cambodia went through the most radical social reformation known when Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge swept to power following years of civil war. Within days, Phnom Penh was a ghost town as everyone was taken to the countryside and forced to work the land. In those years unimaginable things occurred. Despite the terrible past, most Cambodians are the friendliest people you can meet with big smiles welcoming you. Phnom Penh is back to a bustling city now but there are places still here to remember what the Cambodians have been through to make sure it can never happen again.

Our bus ride from Siam Reap was fun as we played eye spy with a family of 5 from Victoria Australia. The 3 young boys were doing their homework and chatting with us about their trip and the funny things that they had seen. We shared a tuk tuk when we got to Phnom Penh and looked after their bags while they went to find somewhere to stay.

We had a relaxing first day in town as we recovered from the early morning and late nights of the last few days. We walked the streets around our guesthouse which was right near the riverside area and watched people go about their business.

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The following day was dedicated to visiting Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Choeung Ek (commonly known as The Killing Fields).

Pol Pot studied in Paris when he was young and developed his extreme Marxist ideas while there. He came back to Cambodia and led his party, The Khmer Rouge, to power. His idea was that the cities were full of capitalist greed so everyone from the cities were rounded up and moved out to the countryside to make the country and agricultural state 100% self sufficient for everything. The people were fed a morsel of rice water not near enough to support their 12 hours or more hard work in rice fields. Many from the city had no idea of how to farm and were punished for slow or incorrect work.

As with most dictators with radical ideas Pol Pot began to go crazy with fear of revolt, outsiders and his plan not working. So the Khmer Rouge started to prison, torture and kill anyone that they thought were against the regime. Even being a professor, wearing glasses or having soft hands implied that you were educated and posed a threat! The massive irony here is that all the leaders of the Khmer Rouge had gone to Europe to study and become educated.

S-21 was the prison name for what used to be a school in Phnom Penh. When the Khmer Rouge came to power they closed down all schools, colleges and universities turning most of them into prisons, stables and warehouses saying that education was of no importance. The school is now a museum to make sure that the atrocities that the Khmer Rouge carried out there are never forgotten.

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The rules of terror

It’s not the nicest of places to visit on a holiday, but like when we visited Auschwitz in Poland, we feel that it’s important to acknowledge these acts of the past where humans can be so cruel to each other. Hopefully we can then try to stop this ever happening again.

The school had 4 blocks and Block A was where interrogations and torture were carried out. The remains of 14 people were found in the block when the Vietnamese liberated the city and in those particular rooms, the bedframes and shackles remain, usually with a picture on the wall of the room when it was found. Incredibly hard to look at and comprehend the suffering that happened in these buildings, it certainly tests your spirit!

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Block B houses a lot of the information of the museum with face shots of prisoners when they were first brought to the prison. The fear and terror in their eyes speak more words than anyone can write down. The information in the museum was very informative with lots of detail about the leaders of the Khmer Rouge and the process of moving everyone to the countryside. It also gives details of the processes used in the prison which are too horrendous for us to put down in words. In the 3 year 9 month rule, an estimated 2 million people from a population of 8 million were killed. Killing that many of your own people is a concept that most people would find hard to contemplate!

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Block C has been left as it was found and shows the cramped cells that were used to keep the prisoners. Wooden and brick cells no more than 1 meter by 2 meters were the ‘living’ quarters that each were afforded. The most striking thing that you first notice though is the barbed wire that enclosed the whole block making it impossible for the prisoners to throw themselves off the higher floors to end their misery.

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There was some interesting information in the rest of the buildings with details of the international victims at the prison, including an Australian bloke from Perth which I was surprised to read about. There were also stories from the 7 survivors of the prison. A few stories of the survivor were similar in that they were picked up for some unbeknown reason while working in the countryside, endured suffering and at some point the guards found out that they were painters and were asked to paint pictures of Pol Pot and the other leaders. They only then survived and had their conditions improve because the higher officers were happy with their work.

There was also some more information on the leaders of the Khmer Rouge. Something I wasn’t aware of was that these leaders are only just now being tried for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. They were removed from power in 1979, and are only just being brought to account for their actions from 2011!!!! Madness!!! Also they all seem to have a Cambodian lawyer defending them, but always have one or two other lawyers from America or Europe defending them. Honestly, I don’t know how someone could do this job. Sure you might be able to get them off or reduce their sentence due to some technicality, but you are defending the worst of the worst crimes possible!

So while that ended a mentally tough morning at the museum, it gave us a lot more appreciation of something that we knew little about before coming to Cambodia. The afternoon was no less harrowing though as we headed further out of the city to Choeung Ek.

Choeung Ek is a mass grave of victims, many of whom were firstly prisoners back at S21. In a bit of countryside out of earshot from nearby villages, the killing fields now house a memorial for the many who found their end there. There was a very good free audio guide that took us around the site and was really informative about the Khmer Rouge and history of the time. One fact that the audioguide gave us which we found amazing was that when the Khmer Rouge was overthrown by the Vietnamese liberators, the western world didn’t recognise the new government as the legitimate rulers. Therefore the Khmer Rouge represented Cambodia at the UN until 1993!!!

The estimations put the number of people killed and buried here at 17,000 (including many women and children). Bullets were expensive, so barbaric means were used and the people buried in the mass graves under the cover of darkness, noise and chemicals to hide the activities going on here. Since the fall of power, the annual monsoon rains have caused the graves to show as big depressions in the ground. Following the path around the mass graves was naturally a very sombre experience even though the site feels very peaceful now.

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One of the most obvious reminders of the victims that you get while you walk around the site is actually right at your feet. Over time with heavy rains, the things that are in the ground get pushed to the surface so as you walk along the paths there are countless amounts of cloth and rags that you notice sticking out of the soil as well as occasional teeth and bone remains. Every month or so, the caretakers of the site go around to collect and document the remains. By far this was the most striking memory that I left the site with!

Some of the graves have been excavated and the remains of 4000 people are now housed in the monument that stands in the middle of the site. While it may sound strange to display the remains of victims like this, it is important as this is the evidence that is being used to bring the people responsible to justice. This way, they will not have died in vain!

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We headed back to the guesthouse reflecting on the tough day. The following day was Monday and we had our appointment at the India Embassy to submit our application for the visa. We got a midday bus down to the south coast to spend our time while our passports remained at the embassy for their 3 day processing time.

While maybe not as fun and upbeat as our other blog posts, I hope you managed to read this far. Phnom Penh has the tough history that makes you realise that humans are capable of doing terrible things to each other, but it now has the friendly smiles to show you that a soul of the people is even tougher

FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – There was one terrible slogan above all else that the Khmer Rouge had which sums up their atrocities.
‘Better to kill an innocent by mistake than to spare an enemy by mistake’

Tanya – A pretty tough history lesson!

Posted by dbgomes 09:33 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia round_the_world Comments (0)

Cambodia – Angkor Wat

Wat a Birthday!!

semi-overcast 36 °C

For 500 years up until the 1300’s the Angkor civilisation was ruling this part of the world. They consolidated this rule with building many temples in the ancient capital. The Angkor past is so deeply woven into the Cambodian peoples psyche that Angkor Wat is on their flag, on their money, on the beer and the biggest historical drawcard in all of South East Asia.

We first had to cross another border and had heard that this particular crossing between Laos and Cambodia was notorious for needing many bribes to get across. Because of hearing this we opted to pay someone to do it for us. Back in 4000 Islands there is a bus company who takes you all the way to Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. Before getting to the border we filled out our departure cards from Laos, arrival card for Cambodia and Visa on Arrival form for Cambodia. We paid the $23US visa fee, $6US stamping fee, $2US no photo fee (Tanya didn’t have any photos so instead of making you get one, you just pay a penalty). When we got to the border, the bus guide took all our paperwork to the offices and we just got to sit on the bus and not have any hassles. The fee for having this done for us was a single $1US each. Easy!!

Some of the other people on the bus hopped off and did the whole thing by themselves. When they got back on the bus they all seemed to have paid more than us. Through paying ‘admin fees’, not having change and paying for the forms we definitely thought the $1 we paid was worth the easy crossing.

After that the bus ride was long but with headphones and some tunes on, we watched the Cambodian countryside slowly pass by. We actually decided to stop into Phnom Penh for a night to try and get our India visa sorted as we needed that still. Unfortunately when we arrived at the India embassy, we were told that you have to do an online application and then receive an interview date to submit the application. With no option to do it then and there, we cut our losses and headed up to Siem Reap.

Paul had stayed with us for the night in Phnom Penh too and the guesthouse there had got us a good rate at a place in Siem Reap. It had a pool too which was a welcome luxury in the heat. All for $8 per night for the room. When we got into town we organised with Niels and Valentina to meet up for dinner. We went to ‘Pub Street’ which as the name suggests is completely overrun with westerners but Siem Ream has been a big travel destination for long time so it comes with the popularity. Dinner was great as we also met Bastiaan and Eveline over a nice Cambodian BBQ of crocodile, snake, frogs, shrimps and beef. It was a BBQ where you cook your meat yourself on a stove contraption on the table. Most of us went for the BBQ option which was a 2 person share deal so the table was full of sizzling BBQs and broths.

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Are these frogs on steroids???

We didn’t stay out too long, as the following morning it was a 4:30am wakeup for our tuk tuk to take us out to the temples for sunrise over Angkor Wat. Siem Reap is about 20minutes away from the temples so when we arrived at Angkor the sky was just starting to show a bit of light on the horizon. Buying a $1 coffee secured us a mat to sit on by the lake and we enjoyed the temple slowly revealing itself to us.

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Today was also Tanya’s birthday, so we had timed it perfect for a good way to spend her birthday, even with an early wakeup. There was a lot of cloud unfortunately so we didn’t get much colour in the sky. It was worth the early start though to have our first impressions of the Angkor Wat like this.

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The crowds had gathered – you don’t get this place to yourself, even at 5am

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Angkor Wat is just one temple that sits in the ancient city so Paul, Tan and I had hired a tuk tuk driver for the day to take us around the massive site that has lots more temples than just Angkor Wat. As the crowds were still relatively small, we decided to head to Ta Prohm as this was going to be the most popular site that we would visit for the day. This temple is commonly called the Tomb Raider temple as Lara Croft was here in the form of Angelina Jolie when they filmed the tomb raider movie here. All the other temples in Angkor have been restored and conserved, but the curators decided to keep Ta Prohm in as authentic state as possible to show what the whole of Angkor was like when it was discovered by early western travellers.

That there is the reason why we probably enjoyed Ta Prohm the most out of everything we saw in our time at Angkor. There was not another person in the temple when we first got there and so we could just walk around in between the giant strangler figs and silk-cotton trees that make the stones of the temples their home. It really feels like you are stumbling across the place for the first time. We could crawl through little gaps in stones and just explore. The trees and temple are woven into one amazing picture!

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Notice the dinosaur... How did they know about dinosaurs?

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Next stop was Ta Keo. After Ta Prohm this one didn’t seem that great, although it was interesting to note in the guide book that it said that this pyramid temple was never completed. As is the case with lots of temples over the world, every time a new king or ruler comes to power they start with building their own temple to be a lasting memory of them. If one of them only lasts a short time, the next ruler doesn’t have any problem stopping work on the predecessor’s temple and starting his own.

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After an early start, we decided to do one more temple and then call it a day. This time it was Banteay Kdei which was quite a long complex of temples and halls. The tuk tuk dropped us at one end and we walked all the way through and met him at the other side. There were lots of images in the walls and columns here. It was pretty quiet so we started to get a few photos of us in different ways than just the usual ‘stood in front of something’ pose.

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We bumped into everyone from the restaurant again so organised to meet up in town later to have a few drinks and dinner for Tanya’s birthday then went back to our guesthouse for a few hours sleep so that we could stay awake later on.

Out at Pub Street we met up with everyone and had another good dinner and cheap drinks. One good thing that lots of tourists does is it usually pushes up the quality of the food as everyone fights for the tourist dollar. After dinner we were feeling the effect of the early morning, but managed to party the night away with Niels, Paul and Valentina in the few pubs down Pub Street.

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The temples of Angkor are far too extensive to cover off in 1 day, so we had planned to visit for a second day to see the bigger Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat. We wanted to head out around 10am, but hangover s and a sluggish start meant we headed off after midday. It was really warm when we got out to Angkor Thom but it didn’t stop us enjoying the Bayon temple. This was built for King Jayavarman VII and has 216 faces in the spires of the temple.

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We walked a bit further up the road and to the Baphuon temple which is on a big mound of earth. There were some pictures showing what condition it was in back in the 1970’s. It hardly resembled what it is like now in its reconstructed form.

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The heat was getting a bit much so we walked through the shade of the elephant terrace and stopped for a drink and some lunch before heading over to Angkor Wat to finish off the day.

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Leaving Angkor Thom

Angkor Wat is definitely impressive with the whole site of the temple and outer walls surrounded by a large moat. The temple was lit up nicely in the afternoon sun and we wandered around just taking in ‘The 8th Wonder of the World’.

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That was it for the temples for us, we could have used our free 3rd day entry and seen more of the many temples are in the area, but we had a visa appointment at the India embassy on the Monday so had to make it back to Phnom Penh for that. What we had seen over two days had impressed us from the smaller temples right up to the big finale at Angkor Wat.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – You can’t come to South East Asia without visiting Angkor. Everyone knows that Europeans have rich history in their buildings, but at the same time that European churches and palaces were being built, there was just as much going on in this part of the world.

Tanya – We have seen so many temples, wats etc but none the less, the temples at Angkor Wat were incredibly impressive. It was difficult walking around in the midday heat, the complex is huge but a very rewarding excursion.

Posted by dbgomes 02:52 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia round_the_world Comments (1)

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