I’m in Phnom Penh B*?!+

You wouldn’t believe where you were as you walk down by the riverside in Phnom Penh, especially in the evening… Loads of people just relaxing on the riverside, with tons of bars and restaurants lining the strip. The crowd is mixed with many locals admiring the views as well as tourists and what appears to be a high volume of ex-pats who definitely seem to be enjoying the Cambodian lifestyle.

The real fun kicks off around 6-7 o clock and the place really reminds you off South Beach in Miami! An exercise class kicks off on the riverside walkway!! Yeup, that’s right, a random dude sets up his speakers and off they go. Passers by join in but there were quite a few people who looked like they had come specifically for the exercise routine!! And then come out the breakdancers… Like a G6, like a G6.. Admittedly not the best dancing, but still amusing to watch.. The little kids near there were even better!!

At the same time, we thought we’d check out the fishing boats which were chilling out on the river… And what better opportunity to perv on some little kids who were very photogenic… So we (ok I – Rishi pretending he didn’t want the photos) took a few photos of kids playing using the powerful zoom on our camera. Knew it would come in handy one day! Lol

My real aim was to catch the ladies who wear pyjamas as normal daily clothing. Now, you may think that this is a rare occurrence which is why I didn’t get a photo, but in fact its a very popular choice of clothing for the ladies in Phnom Penh!! The only reason I couldn’t get one is when you stare at them in their rather unusual choice of clothing, they stare back at you!! Odd ei?

We did however get pictures in yet another market… But it wasn’t very nice because they had poor live lil chickens just lying on the floor pretty much on top of each other, waiting to be sold and then…hmm… I was wondering why they weren’t moving around much but Rish has explained they were probably sedated! One little chicken tried to move and then the little girl watching it just smacked it on the head!! Hmm

Ok there is more to Phnom Penh than the above ‘interesting’ aspects… The main ‘attractions’ are; S-21, the school where people were prisoned and tortured under the Khmer regime from 1975 to 1979; the killing fields, where over 20,000 people were killed; the National Museum and the Golden Palace!

(I have a separate post for the Khmer regime related visits).

Now be warned if you go to the Royal Palace, make sure you wear long trousers and a t-shirt that has little sleeves at least. A scarf to cover your shoulders is not allowed but is ok to cover your legs!! Grr.. So if you don’t have the right clothing you have to buy an attractive t-shirt with a big picture of the palace on it. So, you may be able to tell that I was distressed at having to buy this silly t-shirt, but grr, it was sooo blatantly just to make money.. Anywho, the palace is very grand and beautiful. Huge elaborate crystal chandeliers in the main central building with opulent materials used for decoration. Around one of the courtyards, there are paintings all the way around the walls which tell the story of the Ramayan. There is also a pretty large Bhudda statue made of Emerald in the Silver pagoda and my favourite Bhudda statue made of Gold and encrusted with over 2000 diamonds!! That’s my kind of praying. 🙂

The food is surprisingly varied here too! After trying the local cuisine, yummy veggie amok (mitan’s suggestion), noodles and veggies, we went to check out Dosa corner on recommendation from Hinal! It’s a cute little restaurant near the Independence monument and the road we renamed Linkin Road, because it looked just like the Mumbai street! The food compared well to home… Rishi wanted to order everything on the menu, but we had to restrain ourselves.. I’m certain we are coming back broke and fat!

Killer reflections

Words cannot describe the intensity of Phnom Penh’s sites which document and pay homage to the survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime…

It is reminiscent of the Weimar regime and other such atrocities we have read about in history. I think what shocks me most is how recent this is in context of history. The Khmer regime, which is responsible for over 20,000 genocides and other henious crimes, was over thrown only 4-5 years before I was born.

What crossed my mind constantly throughout the tour of the sites was the anguish, fear, panic, loss of faith and other feelings I cannot even fathom that the victims of the era must have felt.

In addition to that, I was struck by the explanations telling us that several countries were aware of what was happening but instead of helping to overthrow the Khmer regime, they supported it… It cannot help but make you wonder, what else is happening in the world right now, where similar atrocities are being carried out yet we go on living our lives in ignorance or denial. Should we just wait till the next ‘war’ is over then we can go visit the memorial centres on our travels and reflect on how dreadful it was?

All templed out…

Phew! That was an amazing couple of days…

It all began with another early start. 4am, lizard in our bathroom, but nothing could deter us. This morning we were off to see the Angkor temples and had paid extra to go and see the sunrise over the main, most magnificent of the temples Angkor Wat.

Getting to the lookout point was fun in itself, racing through the city against all the other temple-goers, it was our speedy tuk tuk against the world! A quick look ahead and vroom vroom we were over taking at least 2 other tuk tuks… O yeeah… The tuk tuk dropped us off at the bridge which goes over the moat into the Angkor Wat area…obviously being before sunrise, we couldn’t see anything.. We stumbled through to the sunrise point, not that we knew the way, we just followed the silhouettes of the other travellers and grabbed a spot directly in front of the lake that reflects Angkor. We were glad we got there early, because the place was packed up very soon after and people were willing to put their tripods in some very uncomfortable places to make sure they had a good view!

Sunrise was beautiful over Angkor, definitely worth getting up early for.. Although our photos may not do it justice, I did notice the Iphones probably had better shots than the ones taken with slrs, so judge the experience on those photos! (this is a crappy photo, but having trouble uploading a good one!)

We then wandered round Angkor and several other temples through the day. The temples are huge stone structures which had been built as temples to Lord Vishnu, however later on as the Cambodian national religion became Bhuddism, the temples were taken over and had Bhudda statutes installed. Additional temples were built which were entirely Bhuddist too. In many of the temples you still see large Vishnu statues, stories from Hindu tradition carved into the walls and even Shiv ling jis still in great condition.

The temples that stood out the most had to be Angkor; for its grandeur and the beauty of the moat around the huge temple complex; Bayon for the spectacular Buddha heads which tower above the temple and Ta Prohm which had a jungle like atmosphere with humongous trees growing out of it…

I personally found that a couple of the smaller temples we visited, such as Thommanon had incredible atmospheres and a great sense of peace when sitting there. This could have been partially due to less tourists being there but nonetheless they provided a great spot to admire the architecture and grounds in a way closer to what I imagine people in the older times would have done.

We ended the day by walking up to the mountain temple Phnom Bakeng and grabbing a fantastic location off the edge of the temple to watch the sunset. To be fair the sunset was a bit of a let down as the sky had become quite hazy, but we got to meet a really cool Spanish couple who were now living in China and a dude from London who was travelling for 6 months so not so bad!

After the long day, we were definitely templed out, so despite having a 3 day pass we decided we’d take the next day to just chill out and check out Siem Reap…

.. Yes we went shopping.. And we visited the market not just once but went back a good 3 or 4 times during the day.. And actually discovered new parts each time (As Rishi said if we had walked the market systematically, line by line, we could have avoided the multiple visits)..there was a hairdressing alley, beauty alley and sewing people alley on top of all the normal stuff all within the market! It was pretty cool.

The shopping was interspersed with eating. Despite seeing the appealling spicy snails stand, we opted for an awesome Italian restaurant for lunch. The pizza and pasta were both soooo good, we were shocked at how amazing the food was. By far the best restaurant as yet..

Being a Sunday, (we didn’t know it was Sunday), there were many young kids around town trying to sell postcards, bangles, anything you wanted for ‘one dolla’. A phrase, I’m sure we won’t forget easily.. Could buy just about anything for one dolla.. Rishi and I have both been to India and other developing countries where you see the kids living a very ‘different’ lifestyle to what we’ve grown up to, but it still shocks you every time you see the little kids trying to earn a living from selling stuff to tourists or getting excited because you gave them a pretty much empty coke can…

You obviously consider how blessed we are and what grace has been bestowed on us that our childhood was exactly that, an innocent childhood. Even now, at the ripe old age of 27 and 28, our parents still ensure we have food, shelter and anything else we may ever need. They even packed us snacks for this trip! You inevitably compare this to the young children you see hanging around town on their own and appreciate what you have and have a sense of sorrow for what you imagine they are suffering…

But who are we to assume this? Who is to say that our childhood is the better way of growing up?… The freedom the kids have here, the beautiful surroundings and the community feel are all things that my parents certainly rave on about from their upbringing in Africa… Perhaps getting excited from one dolla and a few sips from a coke can puts you in stead for a happier and more content life and isn’t that what we keep searching for anyway?

As Milan always tells us in Chyk class, ‘If happiness was in that Gucci handbag or BMW, we would all have the same level of happiness from getting one, but we don’t.’


On a lighter note…today was special day for Rishi, which I can’t forget to mention, as he had his first Thai style massage and I think he has now been converted… Well I’m judging by the glazed look he had on his face when he came back from the massage which was either pensive relaxation or pure horror… Nothing like paying for a woman to beat you with her hands and feet… Although Rish obviously got into the pampering theme and had a fish pedicure… they chowed down on those feet like there was no tomorrow… NICE!

Anyhow, tomorrow we are taking a scenic boat ride to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia meaning another early start! Yay.

The Infamous crossing… Bangkok to Siem Reap

And the journey began…

Backpacks on at 6am, en route to MoChit sky train station.. Having been in Bangkok for a couple days, we knew how to get around on these.. A cab ride from the sky train station to the bus station, easy enough, right? Uh no! Who would’ve thought the cabbies didn’t even know where their closest, biggest bus station was!!.. After harassing a few of these guys who sat looking at us with confused faces in their bright pink cars we were helped by a random local lady who was doing lord knows what at the time in the morning in that location wearing her teeny shorts and white t-shirt.. She told the cabbie to take us to ‘the place with lots of buses’.. Hmm, why hadn’t we thought to say just that?!

Anyhow, we arrived safely and in good time at the bus terminal to get ourselves a first class ticket to Aran phayet.. Yes, that’s right, we were travelling first class.. That’s how we roll!! And it was worth every penny of the extra dollar we paid for it.. We got given a cup of water and a seat slap bang in the middle of the coach. Ok, so I couldn’t actually work out which ones were the second class seats, but hoping our extra money had gone towards getting a seat away from the stinky toilet for the ensuing 5 hour journey.

The bus ride was pretty cool, saw the scenery, had a few locals join and leave including some service men and also saw police come on board to do a random check which ended up with 3 kids being taken off the bus.. No idea why, but came to the assumption that they must have runaway or something!

The fun really began when we got to rumfdsj market.. A kind tuk tuk driver drove us the 2km from the bus station to what we thought was border control for 20 Baht. Except that it wasn’t border control but instead one of the special ‘visa purchasing centres’ that charge you extra to do the visa buying for you… Not ones to be scammed, Rishi and I insisted we would not be buying from them but would venture to the real legal place to buy the visa…

…We walked right out of there and marched on to the street…

… After a little wander round, we marched right back inside and got the lovely gentleman to get some visas for us! O well, the other backpackers were doing it, what’s the worst that could happen?

Going through thai and Cambodian immigration was pretty straightforward.. Apart from the long queues at the Cambodian immigration centre which was basically a small room with a tree growing out of it on one side.. Yes that’s right, a tree growing out of the building.

From there, you get a free government shuttle bus to ‘the International transport centre’ at Poipet or some other overly exaggerated name, where you can choose to take a bus for $9 or hire a taxi for $48.. We took the 3pm bus…

At 4pm, as we sat on the bus, still outside ‘the International transport centre’ we realised we would have to relax on timings and plans and all the other things which are MY way of keeping in control…

The bus journey to Siem Reap was cool though, beautiful scenery, little kids playing outside, and a couple of little road side cafs.. This is where we experienced the first of the little kids begin their sales pitches and I have to say they are bloody good sales people… They really know how to build up the value of their postcards, telling us we won’t find these exact high quality postcards anywhere else.. Not to mention giving everyone a free gift bracelet first, meaning you feel obliged to give something back… Rishi is very keen to have them back in London doing sales for Suncrest!

Anywho, back on the road and into Siem Reap… We were dropped outside a delightful guesthouse where our bus driver had moved our backpacks into the guesthouse already before we’d even taken the 2 minutes to get off the bus.. However as appealing as the guesthouse looked, we stuck to the one we had booked and were really thankful for it.. Gorgeous hotel with a massive Vishnu statue as you enter, friendly staff and our whole tasty, vegetarian dinner there cost only $7.50! Could get used to this…