Posts Tagged With: Phnom Penh

A Sad Day in Phnom Penh

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Our night bus was supposed to come with fully reclining bed-chairs to make the best of what we were told was an uncomfortable and bumpy trip to Phnom Penh. Instead of the “luxury” bus we had been promised, we got switched at the last-minute to a rickety old bus with hard leather sets that reclined thismuch and were impossible to sleep in.  The air-con was blasting all night, leaving us shivery and cramped as we tried to sleep for a very long and incredibly turbulent 7 hours on our trip to the capital.  Needless to say, we were rethinking our plans to stop in PP only for the day and then catch the bus to Sihanoukville later on in the day.  But we decided to press on and do what we had planned for the day, booking our bus tickets for another five-hour bus journey later on in the day to the beach town of Sihanoukville.  Super Travellers, unite!

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It was a sobering and sad day as we took the time to look at the sites commemorating the genocide of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia in the 1970’s – only 40 years ago!  The country s still recovering majorly from the events of this period in its history, everywhere there is evidence of commemoration and rebuilding from the tragedy that occurred here.  If you want to learn more about the genocide that happened in Cambodia, I’d start here. http://www.ppu.org.uk/genocide/g_cambodia.html

We visited the Choueng Ek Killing Fields in the morning, a mass grave site that served as a burial ground for many of the prisoners in the Toul Sleng Prison that we visited later in the day.  Both sites made a huge impression on us, including my travel partners who weren’t as aware of what happened in Cambodia before they visited.  It was an eye-opening experience to visit the places where these atrocities happened so recently, and inspiring to see how far the country had come in so little time.  The dead were honoured here in memory and spirit, many people I saw were visibly accepted by the horror of these sites, and I think having these places open and available to the public is good: is educates us about how these things can happen and what we can do in the future to prevent genocide from happening again.

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Our day was reaching critical mass by that point.  We literally had ten minutes to rest after lunch before boarding the bus to Sihanoukville and our beach retreat.  Our bus was magnificent!  Fuzzy seats and lots of space to spread (squish) out.  I was an expert at sleeping on buses by this point. I used my sarong as a blanket, cuddled up with my trusty travel pillow and settled in for a five-hour nap.

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Flooded Forests and Floating Towns

Our next big adventure in Siem Reap happened two days later.  We booked a tour through a local company so we could see some of the countryside and another one of the cool attractions in Siem Reap – the flooded forest.  FINALLY, there is an upside to visiting this part of the world in rainy season: you can’t see the flooded forest in the dry season!  We took a trusty tuk tuk to our riverboat stop, a trip that was bumpy but fun cause we drove through some small towns and saw what Cambodia was like for the people who lived there.  It seemed like a simple but happy place – the people were just as curious about us as we were about them.  I even caught a monk snapping pictures of me on his cellphone in a temple we visited as I was snapping pictures of his beautiful temple!  I laughed when I saw him doing this, and obliged in a few photos 😛

Temple InteriorOur little tuk tuk ride came to an end at the mouth of a very dirty river where we boarded a noisy little boat and took off to see the “floating” town that was built on stilts to accommodate for the rising of the Tonle Sap river and lake that annually floods the surrounding area, turning their neighbourhood into a floodplain.  It was so surreal to see these rickety looking houses and community buildings towering high above us as we boated through the water below – it reminded me of some kind of surreal post apocalyptic place where the homes were rebuilt from leftoverscraps and whatever was floating by.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe water levelled off closer to the lake, and we caught a glimpse of the flooded forest around us.  It was magical – all the twisted trees poking out of the water.  We boarded a small long tail boat and glided soundlessly though the forest.  One of the ladies I was travelling with was deathly afraid of the water spiders climbing everywhere in the trees and on our boat, we thought at one point for sure we were going to tip and fall in the water!  Steph eventually just cowered at the front of the boat as we turned a corner and made our way back, making sure to tip our Cambodian boat lady for the trouble!

Woman drivers :P

Our tour ended in one of the floating villages, where we were shown a school and encouraged to purchase pencils and school books for the children.  From the well-rehearsed way this operation was run (children lining up to grab at the books and pencils, handing them back to their mothers for repackaging, the open and sharpened panicles in the packages i “bought”)  I could tell that the money was not going directly to the school or where we thought it was, but I had to give kudos to these enterprising Cambodians who had found a way to tug on our heartstrings and open our wallets to them.  I enjoyed spending time with the lil Cambodian kids anyhow, and had my encounter with the monk at the beautiful temple in the town, built high on the hank of the flooding river.

Me "giving supplies"

Me “giving supplies”

Siem Reap was a really worthwhile place to check out.  It wasn’t as cheap as I thought (except for accommodation which was $5 in our very clean dorm room) but the food and attractions were excellent so I didn’t mind paying.  The little town was easy to navigate by foot and there was lots of shopping and cute little massage places to keep us occupied in our downtime.  The overly enthusiastic hawkers and beggars littering the street were more persistent than the ones I encountered in Thailand, but the county has no social safety net and these people have to do whatever they can to survive.  I tried not to give into the children who were begin.asking for money or meals on the streets, as it’s a well-documented fact that parents keep their children out of school to work on the streets.  Don’t support child labor!  Give your money to a local NGO instead, which is what we did.

My four nights in Siem Reap flew past and before i knew it I was on a night bus from hell to Phnom Penh – the capital of Cambodia.  Epic trip, indeed.

In the mangrove forest

In the mangrove forest

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