Our days were spent reading, making travel plans for Australia and Europe and storm watching. Our nights were spent drinking and socializing with the other guests (usually after a delicious dinner of fish or prawn amok).
We met some great people from Australia (Mike and Belinda) and from the UK (Sam and Helena) to name a few. We played scrabble, traded stories and of course, drank. It was a lot of fun.
One day when the waves were huge but the thunder, lightening and rain were taking a break, we went to the beach to play in the surf. Curtis was having fun diving under the really big waves while I played it safe with the smaller ones closer to shore. Even the small ones were powerful as my bikini top found out…
We were with Sam and Helena with our borrowed boogie boards and the four of us were having a great time along with many other foreigners. It wasn’t long before we had drifted quite a ways down the beach though, on the strong current. When I got out of the water to put my boogie board away, a woman who had been watching us suggested we make our way back as a child had drowned recently in the area we were heading towards. We obliged and there were no incidents.
Twice while swimming in the ocean I got stung by jellyfish but the stinging sensation only lasted about 20 minutes and it wasn’t as painful as one would imagine. Walking along the shore one afternoon we found it covered with dozens of washed up jellyfish.
The temperature of the ocean was actually warmer than it was outside. This was the case another day when Curtis and I decided to walk to the very end of the beach. There was a break in the rain which didn’t last long and we soon found ourselves soaked but were determined to make it to the end. We had to go swimming just to warm up after getting completely drenched.
We had lunch at the Snake House at a glass topped table with a big snake inside after wandering around looking at all the snakes, crocodiles, birds and reptiles. This croc was asleep with his mouth open. Crikey!
After Sihanoukville, we headed to Phnom Penh for a few days before returning to Bangkok. Curtis wanted to see the Killing Fields and hit a few museums before leaving Cambodia. I wanted to avoid any more sad sights but agreed to go.
The Killing Fields are the saddest place I have ever been and imagine that they are one of the saddest places on Earth.
In 1975, Phnom Penh fell under control of the Khmer Rouge, the communist guerilla group led by Pol Pot. They forced all city residents into the countryside and to labour camps. Educated people, people who wore glasses, anyone who spoke a foreign language and anyone who opposed the regime were tortured and killed. Families were separated and estimated 2 million Cambodians died by starvation, torture or execution.
The Killing Fields are where they were taken to be killed and buried in mass graves.
While we were there, reading the history and standing in the very spots where these poor people suffered, I felt sick to my stomach and couldn’t stop the tears. The horror of what happened to them in unbelievable. S21 (the school that turned into a prison) was just as sad to visit. The pictures of all the victims was haunting.
When we returned from our visit to these sad sites, we went to see the Royal Palace to finish the day on a “cheerier” note. It was quite a contrast to see such riches in the middle of a country that is surrounded by so much poverty. We weren’t allowed to photographic the huge diamond encrusted Buddha’s or any of the other treasures inside of these majestic buildings.
Phnom Penh is a city built on the river made up of many beautiful old colonial buildings. There are tons of restaurants and bars to choose from. We had pizza one night at Happy Herbs Pizza, a place we had read about in the Lonely Planet. The “happy” pizza was only $1 extra and when our server asked how happy we would like it, I replied, “just a little happy.” Which was more than enough – we were giggling and looking for ice cream in no time.
We spent our last 5 days in Asia back in Bangkok. It was bittersweet being back there because Bangkok is the city where our one year adventure began. The first 4 months of our journey were almost over.
We spent most of our time in Bangkok trying to shop for winter clothes. Not an easy task in a city that has no concept of cold weather (all of the sweaters I found were short sleeved). We spent one afternoon at the outdoor weekend market, which was filled with everything you could possibly imagine. Clothing, jewelry, toys, silk products, leather goods, food and gadgets.
We went to a tailor where Curtis had a suit and two dress shirts made and I had a black silk dress made. The tailored clothing in Bangkok is much cheaper than off the rack in Canada. Plus it’s so much easier to just pick your fabric and style and tell them exactly what you want than to try on dozens of different dresses looking for the perfect one. You’ll get to see us in our new duds when we go to the opera in Sydney.
One evening as we were walking down the street, I smelled a very strong animal smell – turns out it was a baby elephant walking down the sidewalk. Some guys were selling fruit for people to feed it. Only in Asia….
We also spent a fair amount of time in Little Arabia where we discovered some delicious Indian food and Curtis enjoyed smoking a hookah (or Shisha as they called it there), which is tobacco flavored with fruit.
We went to see the Sex and the City movie (which was an excellent follow up to my favorite show!) but went to a swankier restaurant inside the mall for a cocktail first. I thought it would be fun to have a Cosmopolitan before the movie (which is the girls signature drink if you aren’t familiar with the show). The cocktail menu was extensive but didn’t have a Cosmo on it. Curtis asked the bartender if he could make one and he said sure. While we were sitting on our leather couch waiting for our drinks, the manager came over to us and bowed, apologizing profusely that even though they had the ingredients and knew how to make a Cosmo, that they simply couldn’t because it wasn’t on the menu. His apology lasted for over 5 minutes and even after I explained the whole Sex and the City thing, he still couldn’t budge. I was able to order a vodka and cranberry juice instead (which arrived with more apologizes and bowing) – but it wasn’t quite the same. I would have thought it would have been easier to just make the drink and save the bowing but what do I know?
The Asia portion of our trip being up – we board a plane for Sydney, Australia (with a stop over in Singapore) and head towards winter Down Under.]]>
Having an ice cold shower on a hot day: Refreshing. Having an ice cold shower on a wet, cool day: Torture. Washing my hair and having the cold water hit my back is particularly unpleasant.
We met a couple from New Zealand who have been traveling for a few months and while comparing travel notes she admitted that she hadn’t washed her hair in 5 days. Her boyfriend looked a little horrified but I could totally relate! (I am not as hard core as her – my record is only 3 days with unwashed hair) She was wearing a head scarf so I couldn’t even tell how dirty her hair was – she looked rather stylish with her scarf.
In regular life I shower and wash my hair every day but traveling changes you. The longer you can get away without doing something – you do. (For the record – I do shower every day!) But why wash my hair when I can just throw on a hat or put it up in a ponytail? Think of all the shampoo I’m saving!
The gecko poop changed things of course. I had to wash my hair after that. I discovered that enduring the ice cold water was only torture for the first half, then you get used to it and it’s not so bad. I can say this now because I’m all cozy but I couldn’t help but scream and curse a little while I was actually in the water….
In Cambodia and Thailand it’s not uncommon to see people walking around in their pajamas. Up until now though, it’s mostly been at night. I guess they shower and change into their PJ’s after the sun goes down and then they just wear their PJ’s out after dark. But in Sihoukville there are people who wear their pajamas all day long. It’s funny to see people on the beach in them. I asked a few locals what is up with the PJ phenomenon but they didn’t have an answer for me. My guess is that PJ’s are cheap, comfy and cool enough to wear all day long so why not?
Thais and Cambodians don’t wear swim suits in the ocean – they go in fully dressed. Only the foreigners wear bathing suits at the beach. You just don’t consider these things about a country before you get there and then you get so used to them while you’re there that they seem normal. Which of course they are – we’re the ones who are different.
We had read about Seeing Hands Massage in our trusty Lonely Planet and decided that was something we had to do. At Seeing Hands, the massages are given by the blind and it’s a great way to help them support themselves. We followed the sign for it down an alley and came upon a pretty decrepit looking building. There were a few blind people and some children scattered about the “yard” and we were greeted immediately and led into the massage building. Apprehensively. The inside was clean though – there were 6 massage beds lined up in a row with clean looking towels and they showed us to a little change room where we changed into very comfy blue hospital looking pajamas.
The neat thing about my massage was that the girl never took her hands off of me. No, it wasn’t one of those wandering hands massages that I also read about in Lonely Planet, she did it to keep in contact with me since she couldn’t actually see me. She was climbing all over me on the table and actually gave me one of the best massages I’ve had here so far. Curtis wasn’t quite as lucky – he said his wasn’t very good. But, we happily paid our $5 for the hour since it was all going to a good cause.
I finished my massage a few minutes before Curtis and when I walked into the change room, I walked in on another guy changing into the blue pajamas. I caught him fully nude just lifting one leg into his pants. Whoops – I apologized and shut the door. When he came out he made a joke about charging for pictures…we ran into him the next day at the Boom Boom Room (again, not what you’re thinking!) and I told him he looked different with his clothes on. I began referring to him as Mr. Naked because after that, we seemed to see him everywhere – although always fully clothed. (The Boom Boom Room is a cafe/clothing store where you can buy music).
Another spot we read about in LP was the Blue Pumpkin which was the coolest concept for a place for travelers ever. Bakery downstairs, airconditioned (very important in this part of the world) restaurant upstairs with free wifi, huge couches to lounge on, tables and a great menu. Everything was white from the tables, chairs and massive L shaped couch to the flowers in the huge vase – there were at least 25 people typing away on their laptops and the whole scene was very futuristic. We loved it.
We also loved Bar Street with the many restaurants and bars to choose from – we spent a lot of time drinking 75 cent pints of Angkor (2 for 1 at Happy Hour), talking to other travelers (I was very excited to meet a couple from Iceland – I’ve never met anyone from Iceland before), eating delicious Mexican food (and drinking those $2 frozen margaritas) and just watching all the activity out on the street.
One night we were at an upstairs restaurant that had great live music when we watched a very drunk guy perform a Michael Jacksonesque dance with summersaults and other strange moves all the way down the street. Everyone he passed was in stitches – I’ve never seen anyone so drunk and still able to stand, let alone “dance”.
And the last thing about Siem Riep I must share was my bizarre bikini wax experience. We had heard about a really good massage place from Mr. Naked where the girls had their hands and feet on you at the same time so we gave it a go and since we were heading to the beach shortly, I thought I might as well get a wax. I’ve had a few in Southeast Asia so far and they have been great – the most painless ones I’ve ever had and cheap to boot.
Curtis was going to get the 90 minute massage (for $10), I was going to get the bikini wax and then a 60 minute massage.
I was in the waxing room all ready for them to start when the power went out. The girls went to find a candle but the power came back on just before my “candlelit massage”. Phew! Although they then produced a “spotlight” lamp which they placed between my legs at the foot of the bed. Nothing quite like having a spotlight on your crotch with two girls on either side, hovering over your hairiness. And the pain begins….I admit that I screamed a few times, they were using some crazy roll on wax stick which reminded me of roll on deodorant – except that the rolling pulled my hair before the hair removal even began. My screams led a few people to peek in the room, which was when I realized that I was lying half naked with a spotlight on my crotch facing the door. Which would have been fine if there hadn’t been a window in the door. Not a very big window, but a window nonetheless. I’m not sure who’s faces were peering through it from time to time but I’m pretty sure that before I left there, all the staff got a pretty look at my nether regions.
When it was finally over and I went to join Curtis in the massage room, he said that even he heard me screaming. It’s pretty bad when a hearing impaired person hears your screams from a different room with two closed doors between you. After my little torture session of hair removal, my massage was great.
And now, onto our bus ride.
We took an 11 hour bus ride from Siem Riep to get to Shinoukville which is on the south coast. Included in our $16 bus tickets was a pick up from Rosy’s at 6:40 am. The shuttle bus was running late so we ordered a pot of tea and just as we finished our first delicious sips, the bus pulled up.
The shuttle was filled with backpackers – we were their last pick up. They took us to the bus station where we boarded a double-decker style bus. The luggage and a small bathroom were on the first floor and the passengers sit on the top floor. When we boarded we were handed small bottles of water and sterilized cool towels – a nice touch.
The bus was air-conditioned and had the usual curtains that you see on all the buses in Asia so it was comfy to get more sleep on the journey to Phnom Phen.
We stopped twice along the way for brief opportunities to buy some food, etc. and on our second stop when I got off the bus, I was surrounded by women selling fruit, cooked bugs of all sizes, frogs, small birds with their heads still attached and the best one of all – cooked tarantula spiders. These were located next to a box of live tarantulas which were crawling all over the girls who were handling them. I couldn’t resist asking how much the cooked spiders cost – only 25 cents!
I bought a bag of pineapple and some corn on the cob before retreating back to the bus to get the camera and Curtis. We ventured out again into the chaos trying to get some photos in the crowd. One girl kept trying to bargain me down to buy her bugs (I wasn’t participating in the negotiations, she just kept dropping her price in an effort to get me to buy some). I tried to explain that I don’t eat bugs – but I’m sure she didn’t understand.
We ventured over to the spiders again – despite the heebie jeebies at those huge hairy things – we were drawn to them. One of the girls held one out to me – I backed away while a shiver wracked my body. She told me they were good and they might have been, although I didn’t see anyone purchase any, but there was no way I was about to find out. The thought of putting one of them up to my mouth was more than I could stand to imagine – never mind biting down on it! Curtis felt the same way and we grossed each other out when we were safely back on the bus by coming up with all sorts of spider scenarios until we couldn’t stand it anymore.
Our bus stopped to help a truck change their tire and the delay must have made us late arriving in Phnom Phen because as soon as we got there we were whisked to another bus for the onward journey.
The road from Siem Riep to Shinoukville is great. Nicely paved, it’s a smooth ride. The scenery is amazing. We passed many farms with great water buffalos, cattle, pigs and chickens. There were vast stretches of flat greenlands dotted with occasional palm trees, small towns filled with people at markets and housing that ranged from tin shacks to wooden houses on stilts. As we got closer to the coast, there were mountains covered in lush trees, which reminded us of Costa Rica.
At the bus depot we were bombarded by people handing out pamphlets for their guesthouses and restaurants. The tuks wouldn’t budge from a firm price of $6 (which is way too much. A tuk around town in Siem Riep is $1) So we each took a moto (us on the back of a motorbike with our backpacks in front of the driver) for $1 each. Much more reasonable. About half way to the guesthouse we had requested, my driver started trying to tell me that he knew a better place, a cheaper place. I was onto his game of course because all the guidebooks warn you of this. Curtis’s driver was up to the same tricks except that he was pretending he didn’t know where ours was. They even stopped outside of the one they wanted us to stay at and Curtis firmly told them to take us to ours, that we would decide if it was too expensive.
I was shown a fan bungalow with a view of the ocean for $12. Not too expensive at all!
After we settled in, we went to check out the beach. Turns out we are in a beautiful bay on a white sand beach.
We wanted to check out some other guesthouses and compare them to ours. We found Cloud 9 which had a restaurant/lounge area playing reggae music with lanterns for funky lighting. We asked to see a room and were shown a bungalow that was far superior to the one we had – nicer bathroom, bigger balcony looking out at the ocean, fancier bed linens and some art on the walls. It just felt more homey. The whole place had a really nice vibe so we bargained a weekly discount of $13 a night.
I was hungry (since bugs and spiders aren’t my thing). We had our pick of beach-front restaurants and picked one called the Moon Shack. One thing we’ve learned from our travels is that the best restaurants are usually the busiest ones. We weren’t disappointed with the food or the location. We were on the beach literally 3 feet from the waves lapping at the shore. We both ordered the bbq barracuda on the recommendation of a fellow diner and it was delicious. Served with bbq potatoes and a small salad for the whopping price of $3.50! And guess how much pints of Angkor beer were? 50 cents!
As we were enjoying our second pints, some local kids came by collecting empty cans from the tables. There were three of them ranging from about four to eight years old. The little one took two almost empty coke bottles from the table behind us and immediately started drinking the remaining coke. The kids passed them around, sharing their found treat. They then asked a couple who were finished their meals if they could have their leftovers and happily took the plate off to the side and devoured it.
On our walk back to our guesthouse we were approached by a small child selling bracelets who couldn’t have been more than five. She was so small and it was quite dark that we didn’t even see her until she was right in front of us.
There are so many children in Cambodia who aren’t in school, who are out trying to make money at a very young age. There are others you see collecting bottles, and still others who follow their parents around begging, learning how to beg themselves. It makes it really special when you do pass a school ground full of kids in their uniforms out playing in the grounds, knowing they are getting an education.
You don’t want to buy jewelry or postcards or other assorted things from these kids because you don’t want to send them the message that it’s okay not to go to school because they can make their money selling stuff to tourists. Most of the kids selling things on the beach are not poor by Cambodian standards – and by the looks of them, they are not spending the money they earn on food or other necessities. They are well dressed, wearing “blingy” jewelry, watches and hats. In most of what you read about Cambodia, they advise against contributing to this vicious circle.
The kids out collecting empty cans are the ones who look really poor – and we are more than happy to give them our empties – and delighted when they say “thank you” (not all of them do). And relieved to see that they haven’t started begging.
But sometimes it’s hard to look at their little faces and listen to their little spiels and not want to help them out. I don’t know what the answer is to this problem, I just know that it’s there. We personally, have made it a policy not to buy anything from the kids and try to talk to them about how great it is to go school. Because when we say, “no thank you” to buying their bracelets, they always ask “Why?”]]>
The second day we visited the Cambodian Land Mine Museum which was really something. The museum was founded by Aki Ra who’s parents were killed during the Pol Pot regime. By the age of 10 he was given his first rifle and spent the next two decades at war. He laid hundred of landmines and booby traps as a soldier but in 1994 was trained as a de-miner. He has since deactivated an estimated 50,000 mines.
The Museum is also home to a number of landmine amputee children. They have a safe place to live, and are provided with education and training. The number of amputees that you see around Cambodia is truly heartbreaking. The majority of victims were soldiers and farmers and children of farmers.
We spoke to one young man at the landmine museum who lost a foot. He now has a prosthetic foot – which is extremely rare – he was the only person we saw with one.
Another landmine victim that we met (in Siem Riep – not at the museum) was Top Vanna. He was forced to become a soldier – which was where he lost both of his hands to a landmine in 1988. Top wanted to commit suicide when he came to after the blast and looked down to see both of his hands gone. He tried to reach a grenade that he had in a bag attached to his waist but one of his friends saw and took the grenade away. He spent 9 months in a hospital and became a beggar for a year after he was released.
Top was rescued by an aid worker and was given a job working with Rehab Craft Cambodia. He was then able to realize his dream of a family – he got married and had 2 children. He now has his own business selling books and postcards to tourists.
The damage caused by landmines is devastating – although there are some great organizations helping the victims – the numbers of people who have lost limbs – and their lives – is staggering.
After the sobering visit to the museum, we continued on our journey to another temple – I keep calling it the pink temple because I can’t remember it’s name.
The pink temple was a mere fraction of the size of Angkor Wat. The next morning we went back see Angkor by balloon. The big balloon ride was $15 each for 10 – 15 minutes but totally worth it.
The balloon was a cool experience – everyone stood around the outer edge – and we had to distribute our weight evenly or else the balloon would tip to one side. We got a great 360 degree view of Angkor and the surrounding area.
After our balloon ride, it was on to more temples….we visited Bayon which turned out to be our absolute favorite. Something about all of those faces – it was more moving and amazing than anything we had seen.
And we couldn’t resist being a little goofy:
After Bayon and a little lunch, we moved onto our final temple, Ta Phrohm.
The trees were absolutely amazing, how they would snake their way over the walls.
In some spots it looked like the roots of the trees were the only thing keeping the walls from crumbling down.
We were all templed out by the end of the day but wanted to make one last stop. We had passed an orphanage on our way to the temples with a sign that encouraged you to stop in and buy some of the art that the children had made. I asked Mr. Set to take us there (after a lot of explaining to make myself understood – he thought we wanted to go to a school not an orphanage) but once he got it, he took us to one. It turned out to be a different one than the one I had seen but that was okay. As we got out of our tuk, some of the kids ran up to greet us and the founder of the orphanage welcomed us and gave us a tour. We gave the kids stickers, temporary tattoos and shiny pencils that we had brought from home but we didn’t get a chance to spend any quality time with them. We went back a few days later for a visit where we were able to read with the kids, play soccer, help with their schoolwork and just play with them and give them lots of hugs. The orphanage is completely reliant on tourists and foreign volunteers. We met an 18 year old guy from Germany who was volunteering as a teacher for 6 months. He was covered in tattoos, had a piercing and was wonderful with the kids – they loved him.
The kids were all happy and living in a safe place and enjoyed spending time with us. They especially liked the pictures we showed them on our computer of elephants, fish and cats and of the beaches in Thailand.
They loved posing for the camera and then seeing their photo.
This little one was so cute, she was too young to talk but she wanted me to carry her around and she tried walking in Curtis’s flip flops. When we left she put both of her hands on my cheeks and then gave me a huge hug.
I played ball with this boy for ages and taught him this trick!
Some of the other boys really latched onto Curtis and wanted him to help them with their schoolwork. When we left they were all hugs and high fives. It wasn’t sad leaving them because they were all so well adjusted and received so much love.
Next up: A little more about Siem Riep before the bizarre bus ride to Sihanoukville.
Our tuk tuk drive was pleasant although a little dusty and our first impression of Cambodia was that it was a peaceful, beautiful country. It just had a good vibe to it and the traffic was nothing like we had experienced in Thailand and Bali. But after spending 4 days in an air-conditioned, completely bug free hotel room in KL, we are back to Bugville.
We received a warm welcome from this big spider who was hanging out in our bathroom.
A few months ago, our first instinct would have been to kill. Immediately. Maybe the Buddhists were rubbing off on us or maybe we have become slightly braver from our months of travel. Whatever the reason, we decided to try and gently remove the spider from our room without unnecessary bloodshed. His as well as ours of course.
Our spider removal plan included a little wicker basket, a small plastic bag and a Time magazine. Curtis managed to get the plastic bag covered wicker basket over our eight-legged friend while I tried to slide the Time magazine between the basket and the wall without the spider escaping. We got it to the window and threw him out.
After breakfast and a nap (we had been up since 3:30 am to catch our early morning flight and arrived in Cambodia at 8:00 am), we ventured out to explore our neighborhood. We had dinner at the Butterfly Garden restaurant, which looks exactly as you would picture it. Tables scattered throughout a garden that is filled with butterflies. Best of all, the proceeds from the restaurant support local charities.
After dinner and a little wandering, we stopped for beers at a pub/restaurant in an old French colonial looking building. Seated at our bistro table a few steps up from the sidewalk we enjoyed three large bottles of Angkor beer for the low price of $4.50. While enjoying said beers, there were a host of grasshoppers, flies and some other unknown black bugs that would occasionally land on us, only to be swatted off.
And that’s when I felt a little tickly on my right boob. I peered down my shirt and found a black bug in my bra! I wasted no time in getting the bug out of my bra, although in the process I bared my nipple to Curtis and anyone else who was lucky enough to see it. And I didn’t care in the slightest….my motto is, “No bugs in the bra, no matter what!” That’s my new motto anyways.
The next day at breakfast, Rosy’s resident dog Pickle showed us what his favorite activity is:
Simon is the driver of the bike and also the British owner of Rosy’s Guesthouse. I would highly recommend this place to anyone going to Siem Riep – they’ve got great English breakfasts, free wifi, pool and other games (like Connect Four – which if my favorite game of all on this trip. Probably because I keep kicking everyone’s butt!), friendly staff and spacious and clean rooms.
Next up: Angkor Wat