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Kickin' it in Cambodia

sunny 31 °C

We awoke early in the morning after a night of drinking and games with our Danish friends Martin and Emilie. We all caught the 6am bus to Phnom Penh. It was actually a fairly painless experience to be honest. The border crossing was easy as pie and the road conditions were good. We arrived in Phnom Penh on time and booked out onward ticket to Sihanoukville easily. Here we sadly parted ways with the Danes (to only meet them again down the road).
Emilie and Monique with their matching burn wounds
At the border crossing there was a market, people where literally everywhere

The ride to Sihanoukville was a little longer than we had expected, we arrived in the evening and as usual felt like we were being ripped off by the taxi drivers. We did only pay 2$ to get to our hotel, but that is expensive compared to what the locals pay. We spent the night in a recommended bungalow and enjoyed a few beers and kebabs on the beach. We strolled the streets but after the long day of traveling we were tired and called it a night. We were both looking forward to tomorrow’s adventure, heading out to a remote Island called Lazy Beach.

The following morning we awoke early to explore the city as we only had a short time here. We walked to the beach and had a breakfast with the sun rise. It was so hot already that we dipped into the beautiful waters of Serendipity beach. We realized that Sihanoukville had more to offer than we had previously thought. Nonetheless we were happy to be on our way to Lazy Beach. The boat came and picked us up around noon. They put our luggage in a little dingy and we hoped it didn’t get wet, while we waddled into the water with our small bags over our heads. The 2 hour boat ride was wavy and unstable and most of what we brought was getting wet. But all that slipped from our minds when we pulled up to a breath taking private beach. There was no one on the beach when we arrived except the co-owner Chris. He greeted us warmly and led us to the restaurant where we were served a complimentary drink.

It all seemed so surreal, a whole beach to ourselves, only about 15 other people on the island at the same time as us. Chris even told us about another beach a 20 minute walk away on the other side that was just as beautiful, but more importantly a beach and hour away by foot that would be 100% to ourselves, not another soul around!
We quickly got into our swim suits and spent the rest of the time we had in the sun and reading in our hammocks on our private bungalow. The beachfront bungalows were really nice, 2 big double beds, private shower (heated by the sun) and toilet. As well the best part 2 hammocks to relax on. The same evening we made our way to the restaurant that is run by the other owners Cambodian family. To put it simple the food here was incredible. Michael and the 2 girls we had met on the boat, Anna and … shared a meal of FRESH squid that had just been caught. We continued the night with some drinks and games. Michael joined a poker game and came in third place, too bad only the first and second got a prize.
The view from our bungalow
Our beautiful bungalow
Our private beach
Michael relaxing and enjoying the view
Monique taking a cat nap
Chill out deck

We got up early to take advantage of the day. We had a delicious breakfast, Monique even got a meal personalized to her liking, pancakes with snickers chunks melted into it. She was in heaven. The day was spent lazing around (hence the name of the island, Lazy Beach). We soaked up all the rays we could and relaxed in our hammocks. The night was similar to the previous, it involved a lot of drinks and some more games. This time we got a little crazier and played some Jenga and Twister! After some of the other guest went to bed, Chris (owner) offered to take Michael, Monique and Anna snorkeling to see the phosfluorescence. This was one of the most interesting things we had seen. The phosfluorescence were like little glowing lights everywhere in the water. If you managed to pick one up, it stayed glowing on your skin. They light up the whole ocean, very beautiful and interesting experience.
Monique's delicious breakfast
Monique and Michael
Serious Jenga game
An even more serious Twister game

Unfortunately the next day it was time to leave lazy beach, but it was also a happy time because we were on our way to Phnom Penh to see Brent. After another very wet boat ride and this time long and uncomfortable bus ride we finally made it to Phnom Penh in the late afternoon.

Brent was eagerly waiting for us at Okay Guesthouse, he was actually waiting in the middle of the road and our tuk tuk almost ran him over. We spent the remainder of the evening chatting and catching up. We had a wonderful dinner at one of Brent’s favourite restaurants and celebrated with some drinks of course. Seeing family once again was exciting because despite all the wonderful things we have been seeing and doing, the experience is always more enjoyable with family.
Independence Monument, one of the first sights we saw

The following day we set out with Brent on his structure itinerary for us, which was nice because for once we didn’t have to do any of the thinking or organizing. Right off the bat, Brent impressed us, he had an excellent grasp of the city layout even though he had only lived there 3 weeks and more importantly he had developed excellent bargaining skills with the tuk tuk drivers. He also spoke enough Khmer to communicate with them where we wanted to go.

The plan for the day was going to be intense. We were headed to the S-21 Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. Understandably not the happiest places to visit. On our way out the door we met a Frenchman, Jean Luc who decided to accompany us on our journey. The first stop was S-21 the Genocide Museum.
To give a little history in 1975 Pol Pot’s security forces turned the Tuol Svay Prey High School into the Security Prison 21 (S-21), the largest centre of detention and torture in the country. Almost everyone held here was later executed at the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. Detainees who died during torture at S-21 were buried in mass graves inside the prison grounds. During the first part of 1977, S-21 claimed a terrifying average of 100 victims per day.
Cambodia has a very sad history as you can probably imagine, the Khmer Rouge takeover under Pol Pot’s leadership implemented one of the most heinous revolutions the world has ever seen. This began on 17th April 1975 and only ended in 1998. Two decades, thousands of death and no one to hold accountable as Pol Pot conveniently died in 1998.
Brent and Monique reflecting on what they had just seen

While we toured the S-21 prison we watched a very informative documentary which ended with an elderly woman saying “I understand a lot of things in this world like love, family, and caring for one another, one thing I will never understand is the Khmer Rouge regime.” When you walk through the museum we felt very similar. You see one brutal vivid photo of torture after the next, you can physically touch the torture devices actually used by the Khmer Rouge and to top it off they have the photo of every victim and their life story. You see these people and how innocent they must have been and you try to understand why this happened, and your left believing the elderly woman’s words, “I will never understand the Khmer Rouge regime”
One of the many torture devices
A vivid photo of prisoners being detained with chains and little room to move
There were countless pictures of victims, including women and children
Jail cell, on the floor you could still see the blood stains
The graves of the last 14 people in s-21
One of the many torture rooms, some still had the tools in them

If touring the S-21 prison wasn’t depressing enough, we somberly continued our day to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. The Killing Fields consist of 129 mass graves (43 of which have never been disinterred) and a massive white stupa that serves as a memorial to the approximately 17,000 men, women and children who were executed here by the Khmer Rouge between mid 1975 and 1978. Behind the stupa’s glass panels and rising upward shelf by shelf are over 8000 skulls found during excavation in 1980—some of the skulls still bear witness to the fact that victims were bludgeoned to death for the sake of saving bullets.
The monument for the skulls
Only a few of the skulls

Walking through the mass graves (on poorly labeled signs telling you where not to walk) you read information posts regarding the number of bodies found in each grave. They also point out specific areas where children were beaten to death, and where women and men were executed.
One of the mass graves
Left over bone fragements

Clearly most of the day was somber and unpleasant, but most say it is necessary to go to these sights to have a true understanding of what Cambodian’s have gone through. On our way out of the fields we happen to meet a couple that Monique and Michael had met in Xian China. That was the one bright note of the day. We agreed to meet up with them later and have some drinks. That evening we went to their neck of the woods for some Indian cuisine and drinks.

The following day we took it easy and relaxed before we made plans to head to Siem Reap the next day. Brent did some administrative work and Michael wandered about taking photos. It was a nice day after the previous somber one.
Royal Palace

Early in the morning we headed on the uncomfortable 6 hour journey to Siem Reap. The roads are paved so it is not that bad of a ride, but it is painfully long when there is no toilet. We finally arrived in Siem Reap and settled at our Hotel the Golden Banana. The GB is one of Brent’s favourite hang outs in Siem Reap so he was very well known by the staff. We spent the rest of the day sipping on Mojitos and touring the bar street area.

The next day we decided to go on a sunset tour of the famous Floating Village. We conveniently booked the tour that provided dinner and all you can drink. The tour of Tonle Sap Lake began at an information post that described the village people. Sadly what it described was not all that great, the average life expectancy was only 54 years of age, 12% of all children die before the age of 5, and one of two are malnourished. The average annual income was 500USD per household and the literacy rate was only 46%. After reading this sign we felt prepared for the worst, but what you end up seeing is the friendliest faces smiling and waving at you. These people seem to have a love for life that many more advantage people will never find. They lived in their boat homes and operated their village just like one that would be on land. Even the pig pens were floating! The village was set up with a church, small school, and wedding hall.
Right before we got on the boat, we watched this dog protect the house and not let the chickens in, cute
Some kids hanging out
Monique and Brent on the boat
Banana ladies selling bananas
The entrance to the village
A child doing some chores
The crocodile farm in the village

After touring the village we headed to the companies floating restaurant. Here we ate as much as we could and well, seeing as it was all you could drink, we wanted to get our monies worth. We started sneaking closed beer and other drinks into our bags. By the time we left our bags were so heavy it was obvious what we were up to. Brent and Michael wanted to have a competition to see who had stolen more beer, Michael won in the end because he was actually stealing beer as Brent was only taking water for some unknown reason. We had a good laugh about that along with the safe on the boat who drank with us, and even offered Michael some of their snake dinner.
What we managed to smuggle out

Well on our way to being tipsy, we had plans that evening to meet Brent’s co-workers for a “Canada night Party’. We met at a bar called the Warehouse and got decked out in Canadian gear including a tattoo on Michael’s forehead ( one that was written in both French and English of course). We spent the night getting acquainted with Brent’s co-workers, dancing and playing Wii.
Michael getting a tattoo
Michael's new tattoo
The Canada day gang

Although the next day was a struggle to get out of bed, we finally got our stuff together and decided to do a cooking class. The previous night we had met two Americans, father and son and invited them along to join us. The joined us eventually (they also had a rough start) and we got ready to cook. The first thing we did was go on a tour of the market to buy our ingredients fresh, and we mean fresh, some of the fish were still flopping while awaiting their heads to be chopped. At the market you could seriously buy anything, it was both interesting and stomach churning. After we had discussed all of our ingredients at the market, we headed to a private kitchen to start cooking.
The market vendors
Fresh Fish, so fresh some were still moving
One big guy for someone special
The boys watched this chicken get chopped and gutted
Fresh veggies

We each had to prepare all of the ingredients by chopping, washing, dicing or what be. Then we were each shown how to prepare our dishes in a unique Cambodian style. Michael made Banana Flower Salad and fresh shrimp spring rolls. Monique made mango salad and fresh chicken spring rolls and Brent made pumpkin soup and chicken and cashews stir fry. All of the dishes turned out to be delicious, but Brent definitely won the contest with his amazing pumpkin soup.
Michael with his serious cooking face
Monique and Brent frying it up
Brent making his delicious pumpkin soup
Michael and Monique's spring rolls
Monique's final dish, spring rolls and mango salad

Early the next morning we set out to see the infamous Angkor Wat. We had a driver booked for the whole day so we could enjoy the sunset on Angkor Wat. We started the day off at the first Wat which none of us can remember the name of. It was one of the smaller ones, but nonetheless it was still very beautiful. It was an eye opener for what was to come. It had small corridors leading everywhere and anywhere and giant trees growing in and around the structure. It also had detailed drawings of dancers performing traditional rituals.
Brent and his cool friend with the shades

The second Wat is called Ta Prohm which is one of the most popular ones as it is the sight where they filmed parts of the Indiana Jones movie and the Tomb Raider movie. It is also covered in trees that look like they are strangling the Wat alive. This was one of our favourites, it was like walking through a maze and we kinda felt like Indian Jones. Another point to mention is that nothing is off limits in Angkor Wat, unlike the rest of the world that doesn’t let you get close to their wonders, Cambodia allows you to walk all over it!
Michael getting back to his tree farming roots
A tree taking over
Lunch with our driver

The third Wat was everyone’s favourite. Preah Neak Pean was a very high structure. To climb all the way to the top you were literally climbing upright, it was hard to get up, but even harder to get down. The fourth Wat we visited was Preah Khan (Sacred Sword) which they think was the Buddhist University. It is also very intricate corridors and interesting carvings.
Monique and Brent climbing up
Brent making it to the top
The trio
A panoramic of the temples

The next two wats that we visited we kinda stumbled upon when Michael got lost. The first was Baphuon which is called the worlds largest jigsaw puzzle. Archeologist are here day in and day out restoring the remains. This wat was given so much attention because it had an extremely large buddha’s face carved into it. The other wat, the Bayon where Michael got lost, is home to over 216 gargantuan faces of Avalokiteshvara watching over you.
The final, but most important wat is of course Angkor Wat. It is the biggest ( I think) and surrounded by a moat. It was huge and and housed many different rooms and sculptures. Also there were many carcings throughout the whole wat that described different places such as heaven and hell, and different situations the Khmer people went through. Overall the day was incredible; we ended it with some beers and watched the sunset fall over Angkor Wat. It was a long but amazing day.
Jigsaw puzzle
The intricate detail of the carvings
The trio before a Korean tour group ran us over
Michael and Monique in a tree
If you look closely you can see Buddha's face
The eyes watching over Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat in all its glory
Us at sunset
Having a beer at Angkor Wat
A panoramic of the Indiana Jones temple

After a long but wonderful day of visiting Angkor Wat we decided to take it easy. Also the following day was Michael’s birthday so we wanted to be ready to part. We spent Michael’s birthday relaxing by the pool and drinking some beer. Then we eventually headed out to the Pepy house for the American Thanksgiving dinner they were planning. We were in charge of deserts so we brought some delicious ice cream. It was a wonderful night filled with lots of dancing and drinking.
Some much needed guidance for the Asian population
The birthday boy helping to prepare dinner
Monique's two favourite boys
Brent looking sexy!

The fun didn’t stop there, Brent still had more planned for us. It was now Monday and Brent had to go back to work, however before he really got back into it he took us to the school he works for in rural Cambodia. We think the city name is Chandlidi ( sorry if that is not right Brent), to get there we took the company truck, which meant sitting in the back of a pick up truck for an almost 2 hour ride down the dustiest and bumpiest roads you could ever imagine. To make a long story short, when we arrived, we were all so covered in dust that our skin had turned a different colour.
The dirt road
The school
The children's bicycles
Brent working hard to help the children

Brent gave us a great tour of the school into the library and the classrooms. We didn’t want to be too disruptive so we stayed back a little. But we did get the chance to go into the XO laptop room, which is what Brent focused his attention on. It was really nice to see the children using the computers and having a lot of fun while learning. The school was great, but as Brent said, it is rural, you are living with the chickens, drinking swamp water and sleeping in mosquito nets, which doesn’t mean the mosquitoes won’t get you. It would take a special kind of person to live out there.

After being covered in mud from the previous day we felt we deserved a relaxing day at the pool. We met up with two Dutch guys we had met at Golden Banana and spent the day sipping cocktails and relaxing with them. Later on that evening we went for dinner and drinks with them, (Brent was feeling ill so he went home sick) . At dinner we happened to run into Anna, the German girl from Lazy Beach and caught up with her.
Us with the Germans and Dutch friends

As we mentioned Brent was back to work, so the final day in Cambodia we were left to take care of some unfinished business. We did some shopping and bought our onward bus ticket to Koh Chang for the following day. We spent the night with Brent chatting and discussing our future rendezvous in Thailand.
The following day we left bright and early on the 7am bus to Koh Chang in Thailand. This was an event in itself. The bus was so overpacked you couldn’t move and inch, luggage was everywhere and people were even sitting on plastic chairs in the aisle. To top it off the journey was 3 hours longer than we had been told, there was no air conditioning and because it was so hot on the bus everyone had their windows open. But with the windows open we not only got cool air, but dust dust and more dust! Let’s just say it was a long bumpy , cramped and dusty ride, but we were happy we weren’t the ones on the plastic chairs!
The cramped bus
The improvised plastic seats
Goodbye Cambodia

Posted by koreaeh 06:58 Archived in Cambodia Tagged backpacking

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