29/03: Day 59 – Bangkok, Thailand > Siem Reap, Cambodia
The direct bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap is, in my opinion, the best option. It leaves twice a day, at 8 and 9 am I think, it costs 700 baht and it brings you from point A to B (there are cheaper options, which bring you to the closest village, the another van takes you to the border, then you change again, etc.). Why? Because borders to enter Cambodia are like the Far West and the border agents are real cowboys. You can never know if it’s going to go well or not. On top of that, everyone comes up to you, to try to bring you to a fake border office, fake stamps etc. At least, if you take that bus, they give you all the info, as you cross the border walking, they give you like a name tag that you hang around your neck; it has the logo and name of the company, which is like a repellent for the scammers. They know that you’ve been informed were to go, what to do, so there’s no purpose trying. Anyway, you really need to be VERY careful, to have all the documents with you, you need a photo and make sure you have the good stamps. A friend of mine, didn’t pay attention and the border agent didn’t stamp her passport. When she wanted to leave Cambodia through the south border and when the policeman saw she didn’t have an entrance stamp, he told her she had to go back through the Siem Reap (North) border and pay 10$ for each “overstay” day… basically all… What a hassle.
They obviously also try to get money out of you. They’ll make you pay 35$ for your 30$ tourist visa… and if you ask why it’s 40$! Another story I heard from travellers, was when they tried to stand up to the border agents, to go from Cambodia to Laos, and refused to pay the extra 2$ they were asking. The police told them to wait… wait… wait… after 1h30 they went back, kind of annoyed, still refusing to pay, the policeman took their passports, gave them back and told them they could go. As they arrived at the Laos border, the agent there told them they didn’t have their exit stamp and that they needed to go back to the Cambodia office. The first policeman had faked to stamp their passports… The travellers had to give in and pay…
Got to Siem Reap around 5 and went to my hostel, the Cambodia Backpackers. I went out to walk around the city; its pretty small, very lively, loads of restaurants, shops, markets, looooads of bars on Pub streets. There’s also the Angkor pub crawl you can do.
Then went back to the hostel and met Aileen, the only girl in my room and more or less the only one in the hostel…
Cambodia Backpackers: Not a great place. It was a bit out of the way, the rooms where not great, super hot, the beds were hard, I think some even had bed bugs (which is not unusual in Asia)… The good ones are Downtown Siem Reap Hostel and the best are the Mad monkey Hostels.
30/03: Day 60 – The Grand circuit of Angkor
Eileen had proposed me to join her and her friend, Alan, a real Irish guy, to do the Grand Circuit of Angkor. Basically, other than it’s pubcrawl and Pub street, Siem Reap is essentially known for visiting the mystically famous Angkor archaeological sites. It is one of the most important in South-East Asia. Stretching over some 400 km2, the site contains the many remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. The largest and most famous temple, is Angkor Wat, built in the 12th century and that proudly thrones today on the Cambodian flag. Archaeologists discovered recently an entire city dug under Angkor Wat, which would be even bigger and more complex than what we can currently see (see a video here), which would prove they were much more advanced than we thought.
Anyway, there are many ways to visit Angkor. You can do it by bicycle (if it’s not too hot and if you’re brave and motivated), by bike or by tuk tuk, in 1, 3 or 7 days (which are the 3 different ticket options you can buy -> check more info here). We had chosen the tuk tuk option, as we were 3 (I think it was about 15$ for the day) and I bought as I got there, the 3 day ticket pass, which was 40$.
From there, the tuk tuk driver knows what he has to do, as long as you tell him if you want to the Small or Grand circuit or something totally different. The main temples of the Grand Circuit are: Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Ta Som, East Mebon (the Elephant Temple) and Pre Rup, which you basically do in that order.
My favourite ones were Preah Khan and Ta Som, because they more or less left them intact, with all the trees still going through all the structures to show and remind the power and strength of mother nature; felt very magical. I mean, these temples are absolutely fabulous, if you’re lucky enough to visit then when there aren’t too many people. If you’ve ever visited Egypt, it’s kind of a similar feeling, at least for me. You know this sense of feeling so small in the face of 1000s of years of History. The fact that people built, used, lived here, for me it’s just crazy and I love to try to imagine how it must have been. Also the nature is there to remind you that we are nothing, only temporary and that all we know today, will one day fade and vanish. Some of these temples can really inhabit you.
As I was saying, the good hostels are Downtown Siem Reap Hostel and the best are the Mad monkey Hostels (are because you have them in every major place in Cambodia). Dowtown Siem Reap Hostel is pretty cool though. It has a pool, a cool bar, the people (staff and travellers) are really cool, the rooms are good enough, it’s well located and they like to party!
31/03: Day 61 – TWO months’ recap at Angkor sunrise
Already 2 months on the road, 61 days, 7 countries and slightly more than XXX km! Met some great people, met some crazy people, met up with some old friends and made new ones, fell in love twice, seen amazing places, did things I never had done before and never would have. Started by leaving behind Boston with a Pats hat on my head to keep me warm… (fortunately, didn’t need that for too long); soaked up the intense culture and history of Cuba, partied and danced salsa in Trinidad’s Cave discotheque; saw, up somewhere in the Costa Rican mountains, children going to school on their horse while playing on their smartphone; had to deal with their very own CIS special unit police force for our long gone belongings (since then, people have been contacting me on facebook here and there when they find my stuff – passport, credit cards…); decided Singapore was way to clean and neat for me (and expensive); was struck by a huge cultural and religious diversity in Malaysia; by the time I got to Thailand, realised Asians where way more tactile and “open minded” on certain topics (….) than one would believe; chilled on astonishing white sand beaches; cried during a Ping Pong show in Phuket; had one of my top 10, at least, nights at the full moon party; got way to scared in Koh Tao (involving sandy mountain roads and Sunday scooter driving skills (translate “conducteur du dimanche” in French)) and got even spicier with a hot beach fire show; finally, went to a Mua Thai boxing fight in Bangkok, where I felt more or less like XXX. Anyhow, 4 months of stories left to come, starting with Cambodia!
Other than that, my 2 months birthday, was also the occasion the go and see the sunrise from the famous mysteriously magical Angkor Wat and do the Small Circuit. Can’t say the day started too well… alarm clock at 3.35 am, for a departure at 4. A tuk tuk driver came to us saying that he was the friend of the guy that was supposed to pick us up and that the other guy would come later… fair enough, we went for it; he drove us to Angkor Wat, told us that his friend would come and pick us up here and therefor had to pay him the first 15$… gladly didn’t fall for that and after cursing us and whishing us bad luck and to be careful at night, he drove off; in the end it was unfortunately all a lie…
Anyhow, 5.15, headed to the pond in front of Angkor to see the sunrise, waited there for a little bit, decided it was way too crowded to enjoy the moment, so forgot about the perfect shot and headed inside the temple. There, found the perfect, lonely, silent spot, where you could feel the grace and power of this ancient place.
Then, back to our reality and world, I started texting our actual tuk tuk driver through facebook, which started a loooong negotiation. So, please picture Angkor Wat, one of the most incredible, amazing places this earth has to offer and ME, just texting away on my phone, trying to convince the guy that it was a mistake and if he could please pick us up…. 40 min later, after a couple of “you are bad people; why did you make me come at 4 am and took another tuk tuk; I don’t believe you, you are not at Angkor Wat, you are fouling with me”, a picture to prove where we were and a couple of extra $ to show him how sorry we were to have been duped, he was finally on his way. In the mean time, lost the girl I was with, went back to find the driver to prove him we were really here and then went back to the temple again starting a chase around the temple to find the girl (basically between the entrance and the temple, you have a 12 min walk…). Finally found her, so things could go back on track…. With all of that, ended up by spending a solid 3 hours in the temple! I do recommend to take a guide for Angkor Wat or at least of a book or a website that explains it all. There are too many things in there you’ll want to learn and understand, that you really don’t want to miss!
The other temples we visited were also amazing. Angkor Thom (they used for Tom Rider), the one with all the faces was pretty cool, although very very crowded and sadly they do Elephant trekking tour around that temple; a couple of days after I left, one of the Elephants collapsed and died with tourists on her back she was so underfed, thirsty and hot… Banteay Kdei, Ta Keo, The Bayon was incredible. I won’t to the full list, but all of these temples have their very own history, use and specificities. Actually you can really distinguish the different periods they were built in, the realms etc because of the different architectural styles and stones they used.
In the afternoon, joined Eileen in Siem Reap. We went for a walk in the city and she had met a nice Italian guy who had an Ice-cream lab / coffee bar, that’s probably why it’s called Gelato & Coffee Lab, where I had one of the best ice-creams. That chocolate was amazing!! Even better when it’s this hot !!!! Definitely go there when you’re in Siem Reap. As we were sitting at the terrace, this kid came up to us, looking so sad and so sorry for himself and with a cocker face he looked at us and asked “1$?”. We just laughed because he was overplaying it so much. “Please 1$, 1$, 1$”. It’s not good to give to give children money, so we were saying no and it was funny because he was actually clearly a regular “customer” and knew the owners. So seeing he wouldn’t get anything, he went in and they gave him a nice ice-cream. The kid came to sit with us outside, he was so funny. We would try to talk to him and every now and then, he would look at someone passing by and say again with his cocker face “1$? 1$?”. The scene is difficult to explain, but he was hilarious and probably just passing time. I remember I even called my father on skype and showed the kid and even then, he put his hand out and asked him “1$?”.
That night, took a night bus, direction Sihanoukville. 15$, with a change at Phnom Phen, departure 12 am, with a supposedly arrival at 11.30 am…. Well that was a very… local experience! I’m not sure I enjoyed it that much though… jumped on a bus where I was the only white girl, basically spent the whole trip between snoozing and waking up wondering, with great doubts, if my backpack would still be there when I arrived. Considering all the stops we were making and of course no one spoke English, not that it changed anything… Anyhow, arrived at Phnom Phen, with my bag (youhou!) and waited from 5 to 7 for the first bus to Sihanoukville. Sam thing, only white girl, but this time was during the day so, didn’t really matter too much anymore.
01/04: Day 62 – Sihanoukville
Decided to stay “downtown”, near the animation. Sihanoukville is an ugly little city, no charm, nothing. Didn’t even make the most of nightlife as I was exhausted and went to bed at 10.30 after watching a movie on my laptop. The hostel was nice though: The Led Zephyr. Cheap, food was good and very close to all night animations.
02/04: Day 63 – Sihanoukville > Koh Ta Kiev, the beautiful sunset and the magical glowing waves
From Sihanoukville to Koh Ta Kiev, the boats leave every day at 11.30 for each “resort”, if you can call them like that; it’s actually more of a couple of pieces of wood to make a bar, a kitchen to keep beer fresh and a roof to cover the bunk beds. The round trip is 12$ and it takes you a little over 1 hour to get there. Of course, being a remote island, it’s a bit more expensive than main land. 5$ to sleep in a hammock, 7$ to sleep in a bed and about 5$ for each meal.
Don’t expect to go anywhere else from Koh Ta Kiev. Actually don’t expect anything when you get there: don’t expect ATMs, don’t expect wifi, don’t expect running clear water, don’t expect roads, tuk tuks, just expect to spend a relaxing time and enjoying doing nothing, with a couple of joint smoking hippies. I’m not too keen on that vibe usually, but it was actually nice and fun. Just drop the watch and forget about what you have to do next, believe me, it’s not easy, but that’s the best way you can enjoy Koh Ta Kiev. It’s the perfect place if you are getting tired of moving all the time or if you need to do some catching up on your writing…
From Last Point, I think it’s also the case for the other “resorts”, the beach isn’t that amazing, it’s kind of dirty (obviously since no one pays to get it cleaned up) and a bit windy, but the set up is really nice, though very very basic, with reggae / Dub / Tripop going on all day, mixing in nicely with the sound of the barking waves and the breeze.
Basically, here you’ll find a couple of locals making the food and keep the place together and about 7/8 foreigners to look after the clients. They don’t get paid, but get free food, accommodation and beverage… which basically means that they’ll be drinking beer all day and at night, you’ll see them get drunk on free shots and you… will mainly look at your wallet as drinks are quite expensive.
I think I was lucky when I got there, the plan for the day was to go to the Elephant Rock and see the susnset from there. So we went there on the boat and after a fair bit of waiting around, a couple of jumps off a 7m cliff, it was there, the beautiful, powerful, strong sunset. Amazing!! After that, swam back to the boat and headed to the Ten 103 bungalows to spend the evening. Same concept, a bunch of hippies serving the clients, but very friendly and very cool atmosphere.
The boat ride back by night was also amazing: the ocean was calm and quiet and the water full of glowing planktons; each wave that the boat made on its way, lit them up and by putting one’s hand in the water, it would create an even bigger ale of light; a true magical experience.
03/04: Day 64 – Koh Ta Kiev
Day 2 on Koh Ta Kiev, you already start letting go and winding down. Opened my eyes with a view almost to the beach, could see some of the crew already rolling their joints at the bar at 8.30. Took the couple of steps that separated me from the bar, to have a wonderful museli with fresh milk, mango and banana. Then took a couple more steps to get to the beach and chilled for the rest of the morning.
For lunch, decided to walk to the fisherman’s village, which is more or less an unexpected 40 min walk (the walk wasn’t that great, as everything was dry… dry season…), where we had some amazing fish and crab, which we saw being taken out alive from the ocean, quick stop on the frying pan and directly into our plates… delicious food and probably the best I had !!!! The village, although unfortunately dirty because of the ocean, was a very authentic little place, mixing babies off all kinds, dogs, ducks, humans, chicks, calfs… At some point this big engine machine, which was actually a generator, was turned on, making a hell of a rack, and it took us a good 15 min to make the correlation between that and the TV coming on…
Headed back to Last Point and just chilled for the rest of the afternoon.
03/04: Day 64 – Koh Ta Kiev to Koh Rong
9 am check out of Koh Ta Kiev. 2 nights was definitely not enough and on my way to Koh Rong. 1h boat drive to Sihanoukville and headed to the peer. Round trip is 20$ with the speed boat and 10 with the slow boat. Honestly, I don’t think the speed difference is worth paying 10$ extra. Anyhow, our 11am boat was delayed by 1h30… and got at Koh Rong around 3.
It’s funny how the brain, at least for me, tends to try to keep the good memories and brush under the carpet the not so good ones. I remember spending basically 3 days complaining about the place. Thinking about it today, it was actually pretty beautiful. The beaches and water were incredible and unlike any of the Islands I went to in Thailand. Much less crowded, sand was much whiter, but much more dirty and full of sand flies…
First glimpse off the boat was a good impression. Looked like this nice jungly island. I was with a Dutch girl I had just met and started walking up and down the main Monkey beach to find accommodation. All dorms are 5$, Twin rooms 12$, some with breakfast included. Anyhow ended up at Rong’s, which was a good option to avoid the beach wreck until 2 am. Second glimpse was not so glamorous. The beach is not that clean and the island full of junky drug addicts, not only of course, but… I think I was also a bit disappointed because I liked Koh Tao so much and wanted to find the same set up and atmosphere. Koh Rong has most of its activity on that 200m beach, which is actually quite oppressing, as it seems all pushed onto the beach by this hill overviewing the bay.
For food, there is actually a nice place that proposes cheap healthy meals. Can’t remember the name of it, but it’s on the main beach and they are the only ones who expose menu (food) outside!
In the evening, went up to the Skybar for a couple of drinks. That’s the good thing on the island, I think you can get away with pretty cheap drinks; if one bar isn’t offering free beer for whatever reason, the others will propose you buy 1 get 1 free until quite late at night. More or less every night is supposed to have a theme. Monday was after party at Police beach, Tuesday and Thursday is Pub-crawl, Wednesday and Friday is… I can’t remember. Koh Rong also have their Full Moon party (with power out by 2 am, I wonder what that must look like…). So yeah, ended up having 3$ mojito (remember, buy 1 get 1 free), on some sort of rave music… I actually met Allyn, the Irish guy I met with Eileen back in Siem Reap, which was funny.
In my mind, I was supposed to work here for 2 or 3 weeks. For the moment that’s not going to happen, but I wanted to give it a 3 nights try.
05/04: Day 64 – Chill day in Koh Rong
I had Marmite on toast for breakfast that morning!!!!! MMmmmmm so good!!! There are a lot of English people owning bars and hostels on the island, so… they important the most important!! ^^
I don’t remember our little girly group, 2 French, 1 German and 1 Dutch, doing much that day. We ate, played cards and walked around quite a bit. We went to the 4 km beach, which was an amazing beach! Absolutely beautiful. We chilled there for a while and this cute little girl came up to us with her dog; she wanted us to take photos of her little princess face. We maybe took 100 photos of her. She was fascinated by the camera and would laugh when seeing the photos; an adorable little angel.
At night we went to the Pub-crawl, it was really cool and we had loads of fun! Participants get a free T-shirt, shots and they organise flip cup, beer and pong.
06/04: Day 65 – Snorkelling trip in Koh Rong
Our girly group had booked a boat day tour. It was nice and an easy way to get to the different beach of the island, without hiking through it. The beginning was a bit hard, this being a bit hammered from the night before…
It was fun, they had music on the boat, booze, obviously weed… They first of all stopped for us to fish with very basic material (obviously we never would have caught anything, not that I would have participated anyways), so that was a bit stupid, but then took us to (I think) Sangkat Village. It was a very sweet village, where they were currently building quite a large temple. It was funny to see the foundations, especially of the big concrete Buddha, that, later one, will be covered in paint and ornaments. However, the speciality of that village is that they produce homemade coconut oil, from the trees of the village. Then of course the idea is that they sell you small bottles of their natural oil (5$ for 150ml), which is actually pretty convenient because the beaches in Koh Rong are FULL of sand flies and coconut oil helps as repellent.
Anyway, then continued on to Lonely beach. For the French, people, I’m pretty sure that’s the beach they use for Koh Lanta, the Cast Away TV program. There, we had lunch and went snorkelling. The beach is very nice, very chill.
Not sure exactly what we did after that, but went to Long Beach to see one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen. The photos don’t reflect half of the beauty it actually was. Just imagine a beach, white sand, blue water, no one else there, a huge sun, in the shape of a hot air ballon because of some clouds, plunging into the water in the distance and leaving behind a spectacle of dancing colours, pink, yellow, blue, white, orange… Wahou!
Then it got even more WAHOU as we went swimming, by night, in the water full of glowing planktons. It’s so amazingly amazing !!! As you swim, you leave a hallow of light after each movement. As you wiggle your fee, it lightens up everywhere around you, it’s totally magical and seems completely unreal! And then, when you’re done observing that, you can just float and watch the shining starts in the sky. Really one of my best experiences!
Unfortunately, just before we got there, I saw a flow of trash in the water, so I was already thinking of how dirty the water actually was… and as I was swimming, I accidentally swallowed water… beeeuuuurk! Then felt sick the rest of the night and I’m sure it was only in my head!
07/04 – day 68: Koh Rong to Kampot
Made the most, one last time, of the beautiful beach. Then our group chilled and played cards before heading to a new destination. I learnt a new game. Can’t remember the name of it, but still remember the rules and played it a lot after that actually.
My boat was supposed to be around 12 for Sihanoukville before going to Kampot. So I left the girls who were heading to Koh Rong Samloem (maybe I should have gone there instead) and headed to the pier. Okay first announcement it’s 30 min late… okay, I’ll go back with my friends and come back then… Went back again (all of this with my big backpack, walking in the sand…), 45 more minutes… Well I’m glad I wasn’t too much in a hurry that day…
Got to Sihanoukville, took a collective equivalent to Kampot which is actually only 1h30 away I think.
By the time I got there, it was already end of day, so walked around a bit and chilled at the hostel.
Monkey Republic: I guess they rely a bit on people like me getting mixed up between Monkey Republic and Mad Monkey (where I wanted to go). The place is fine. I guess it always depends on who is there at a given time. I remember it being pretty clean.
08/04 – day 69: Kampot
As I went in for breakfast, I saw this Dutch girl looking into maps and guides, so I thought, unlike me, she should know everything there was to do around here. I sat with her and we started to chat about Kampot and realised she didn’t know more than I did!
We decided to rent a bike together and head for one of the most famous attractions around Kampot, the Bokor National Park. It was built in the early 20s by the French colonialists as a weekend getaway resort area, supposed to be cooler than the capital. You would have houses, resorts, a casino, even a Church, but, what later became a National Park, was abandoned twice; first time during WWII and then when the Khmer Rouge took over and became a big base to them, after what, it was never really rehabilitated and all the Park was sold to a Chinese group. The new owner plans to give back to the mountain its yore greatness, by building new hotels, golf courses, renovating the Casino, etc. I’m pretty sure it will be the kind of place built by Chinese, for Chinese, but anyway, it will need, in my opinion, a lot to take away that weird atmosphere that reigns up there…
Bokor National Park is when an abandoned mountain resort becomes a thing or an attraction, it’s just… strange. Especially we went there on a cloudy day, during dry season (I think during or just after rainy season, nature is much more beautiful and generous and gives to the place a totally different aspect), so the whole thing just had this heavy spookiness going on. On top of that, there were very few people… it was one of the strangest (I wouldn’t go as far as saying uncomfortable, but not that far) days of my trip. An abandoned Church, an abandoned casino, some empty former pretty nice houses, taken over by nature. I mean… let’s say it’s awkwardly cool! If you close your eyes in the casino, you can try to picture the rich French colonialists having fun away from home for the weekend (or the Khmer Rouge planning what awful thing they were going to do next, but let’s not think of that). Again, I had read about this gloomy fogy atmosphere when the season is right, that must be pretty powerful.
There are also a couple of nice temples around, so in the end it took up quite a while. By the time we came back to the city, we walked around a bit the little streets, the Durian Monument, THE statue of the city… (hahah Durian being the strangest, smelliest, most controverted fruit probably in all South East Asia). The city as quite a few nice bars, restaurant AND bakeries (very important for a French person), where you can find decent pastries and bread!
Went just next to the old Bridge of Kampot to catch the beautiful sunset over the mountains and the river. Beautiful.
For diner, went to Ciao, a scruffy looking Italian restaurant, with just a couple of pans in a 3 m2 “kitchen”, tables and chairs and that makes one of my favourite farang restaurants in Asia!
09/04 – day 70: Expedition the pepper farm and to Kep
We left in the morning, rented some bikes and off we were, the Dutch girl and I, to explore the surroundings of Kep. Hitting these roads confronted us with another side of Cambodia, the rural Cambodia, where people pile up their goods on a tiny motorbike, driving past skinny cows and modest houses. It was more or less the peak of dry season, so all the fields looked so poorly, but it must be such a luchy area when the time is right.
Anyway… The area is well known in Cambodia for all its numerous pepper farms. Most of the food around Kampot and Kep is impregnated with the powerful and quite unique taste of Kampot pepper. As we were driving to get to Sothy’s Pepper Farm, we drove through some awesome dirt roads, the scenery was beautiful. When we go there, a German girl who was volunteering there guided us around. It’s not a huge place, but I guess they have quite a bit of money considering it’s quite famous. All the process of pepper farming is pretty interesting. I had never seen or heard of it before and we even got to try the different kinds of peppers, the red, the black, the green… Honestly, I’m not too much into the “Ho by the way, now you’re here, we sell our products for stupid tourists like you!”, but I did buy pepper from that place. I sent it home and totally forgot about it. Months later when I came back home, my dad made a coleslaw salad and wahou, I spotted and remembered that taste straight away!
After that, we headed to Kep… relatively unexciting… although I’m sure we didn’t see most of it. What was really interesting around there was the highly colourful market, where some ladies were in the water collecting the crabs in the water, others selling them in big wooden cages, where hundreds were piled up and others cooking the crabs in big pans full of that Kampot pepper.
In that area it’s nice just to drive and get lost in the small dirt roads; we always had nice surprises: temples, caves, powerful landscapes, cute kids… The only down side was the girl I was with, always complaining about something, “it’s too hot”, “you drive too fast” (lol, I drive too fast…), “I’m tired, let’s go back”. I guess these are the risks when one travels alone and team up with people you don’t know… sometimes you just want to ditch them on the road… anyways, I was happy when she left to take her bus…
10/04 – day 71: Kampot > Phnom Phen
Before heading to the capital, I wanted to explore the area a bit more, since I had been a bit pulled back the day before by a lazy… no nothing… Anyway, drove around, assisted the a pétanque game, which was hilarious to see that in the middle of absolutely nowhere in Cambodia! Such a southern French tradition. I guess it was the vestiges of former French colonialism.
I also got to a pretty famous cave, but can’t remember the name of it. As I got there, a group of kids was hanging around there, obviously asking for money to watch the bike (ie pay me if you don’t want anything to happen to your bike, but in a nice way) and to guide me around. In the end, they were pretty sweet; I hanged around with them for a little while. It’s always pretty funny because a lot of kids are not that shy and often really want to communicate with you. They were kids looking for a bit of money while school break. I was surprised by one of them who spoke very good English. He ended up by asking me if he could have my Facebook to practice his English. One would probably think that’s cute… but laying it back into perspective, the kid probably lives in a house with no electricity, yet he’s asking me with his internet equipped smartphone, to add me on his Facebook… I still think it’s crazy… Anyhow, I still speak with him every now and then. Cute kid.
Later in the afternoon, I left for Phnom Phen. I had booked to finally go to one of the Mad monkey Hostels which was nice. As I arrived, I met a group of girls and we headed to the Phnom Penh Night Market (Psar Reatrey), an absolute must to in Phnom Phen !
It gathers locals and foreigners, around a large choice of great food, sugar cane juice (must try), touristy souvenir stuff and we were lucky enough to have some sort of concert happening. Apparently, they were playing famous Cambodian hits, because it was full of young Cambodians dancing, so we joined in and expectedly everyone was looking at us, dancing with us, it was great! Having diner there is also quite the experience. The food stands are in a spare set up and in the middle, a very large space with loads of carpets to sit down on and eat. Didn’t see that anywhere else. It was really cool!! > See video.
As we came back to the hostel, I needed to find someone to go around with me the next day to see the prison and the killing fields and I met Angele. A super nice French girl, really interesting; we started talking about our respective trips and Like Anna I had met in KL, she belongs to that group of few people who you really remember. The kind of girl who is amazed and appreciates everything she sees, she feels and that fascinates me and makes me jealous, because I’m not like that at all!!
Chatting about our travels, I was explaining that I had been hesitating for 5 days on what to do for Songkran. I had planned to continue in Cambodia and head to Mondulkiri area, but a few days back, Oane, a friend I had met when I did my volunteering at ElephantsWorld for the first time, called me saying he would be in Koh Tao for Songkran and that I should join him! Go or not to go, that had been the tough question for the last couple of days… I had to take a decision (if I eventually wanted to take my plane tickets at some point) and talking about it for the 50th time, I realised, I wanted to see my friend and go back to Koh Tao !
We arranged to meet up the next morning and organise together our Phnom Phen visit.
Phnom Phen Mad monkey Hostels was nice. Nice pool, big rooms, party hostel, which was perfect. Great staff, great set up, even though a bit expensive, but they did have their own bar. That hostel really knows how to work the brand and make you go to each one of the Mad Monkeys over Cambodia, because they make you win prises if you go to all, or if you stamp the number of beers you drink, etc. Great concept!
11/04 – day 72: Phnom Phen, Prison s-21 and Killing fields
Once we had found a tuk tuk to bring us around for the day, off we were to discover what is described by many tourists like gut grabbing, tears making experience. The Prison s-21 and the Killing fields. As you may know, or not actually, “the brutal regime of the Khmer Rouge, ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 and was responsible for one of the worst mass killings of the 20th Century, claiming the lives of up to two million people.
Their Marxist leader Pol Pot, declared that the nation would start again at « Year Zero », isolating the people from the rest of the world by emptying the cities, abolishing money, private property and religion, and setting up rural collectives. Anyone thought to be an intellectual of any sort was killed. Often people were condemned just for wearing glasses (sign of intelligence). Hundreds of thousands of the educated middle-classes were tortured and executed in special centres all over the country. The most notorious of these centres was the S-21 jail in Phnom Penh, Tuol Sleng, where as many as 17,000 men, women and children were imprisoned and killed” > Read more.
The atmosphere there is pretty powerful and the history of it quite sad. There are photos in most of the rooms, that the Americans captured when they took over the prison, representing the state in which they found the place. Fresh burnt bodies, blood stains everywhere, torture utensils, you name it.
After a long conversation with Angele on why the World didn’t intervene during these 4 years of genocide, we headed to another museum of horror, illustrating the violence of that regime, the Killing fields.
The name is pretty explanatory. These fields were actually camps where masses of people were brought to be killed in the most violent and the cheapest way possible. Sorry for the very graphic description that follows, but to give you an idea, the Khmer didn’t want to spend money on guns and bullets and they also didn’t want gun shots to be heard, so they dug pits, force the people to kneel and smash their heads with the equivalent of wooden bats. Because the system was to eliminate not only the person found guilty, but eradicate the problem from the root, ie all the family, there was a dedicated tree that soldiers would smash the babies against… there were many more colourful details in that place… but another fact worth mentioning and that strikes to remind you that it happened not that long ago, is that earth is still giving back bones and shreds of clothes, as if she was throwing them up, she was so discussed.
It also hosts a huge column of thousands of skulls they found when it all finally stopped. Very impressive.
12/04 – day 73: From Phnom Penh to Koh Tao, just before Songkran
So, just after having quickly visited some more of the 39° Phnom Penh and gone to Wat Phnom, the Royale Palace, the Silver Pagoda and walked in front of the Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship monument, the National Museum of Cambodia (after which I thought I was going to die of heat because as usual I went out around 11am when it is the hottest), all of it being super nice and decorated for Songkran, it was time to try to get to Koh Tao for Songkran, see Oane and of course… some other friends!
Went to the airport, took the plane, that I had booked the day before (or maybe the same day actually) and the plan was to get to the train station to do Bangkok – Koh Tao… with no former reservation (arriving at the station at 19.15) a day before Songkran…! Haha, I was very optimistic or unconscious or stupid… anyway, got the train station pretty fast and went to the “tourist ticket office”. “Hello, it is a day before Songkran, the biggest celebration of the year, it is 7.15, I would like a ticket to go to Koh Tao now please!”. After a couple of No’s and me insisting I had to leave there and then, she did find me a seat… What she called a “standing” seat. It is now 7.25. “Okay, I have a standing seat and you have 30 seconds to decide because the train leaves at 7.30….”. Standing seat?! Picture me imagining myself standing in a train for 9 hours… OKAY LETS GO! 7.28. Managed to jump on the train almost in march already. As I jumped in, I looked around and it didn’t look that terrible. Nice bed, aircon, I was sure I would end up in one of these… someone must had missed the train… Anyway, the controller didn’t let me stop and had to follow him further. Then the 2nd class were only regular seats, which was still okay… but no, kept on walking, with my nice big backpack, all the way to the back of the train… 3rd class… so picture now a dirty wagon with maybe 80cm benches to share between 2 people. I was just feeling so gross, but sooooo happy to be in that train! ^^