Battambang, Cambodia: Crocodiles and Phnom Sampeau

IMG_20151102_135036My journey to Battambang was uneventful with the bus full of Cambodian and the ride being bumpy on a tiny highway. It took longer than the time I was given but that not unexpected with Asian time.

As I arrived about nine in the evening, I hopped on a motorbike taxi to a guesthouse, where I checked into a private room (my first one since travelling). It was lush having my own space and relaxing without worrying about my possessions.

Battambang is a small town with no so much to do. The main reason I came here was to break up the journey back to Bangkok and to see a different town to Siem Reap. There were only a handful of tourist around the area.IMG_20151102_104553

As I was only in Battambang for one full day, I decided to hire out a motorbike to drive around. I had been told to keep my belongings close as there are a lot of theft in Cambodia.

First, I drove to a crocodile farm: I’m not sure what I expected but it was a small place, where they had 400 crocodiles in a pond. It was pretty cool to see but they were so still they looked like statues. They had a couple of baby crocodiles, where I got to hold one. I was screeching while it was squirming in hands: it was tiny and such a great experience. I spoke to the lovely lady there, finding out about the crocodiles. I rode around town looking at the different statues around and temples before having a papaya salad for lunch.

IMG_20151102_104250In the afternoon, I drive 15km out of the centre to , which is a huge hill with temples and the killing caves. Usually, I think most people walk around but I was able to motorbike the hill. On the roads there were several monkeys running and climbing but since developing a fear of wild monkeys (my friend got bite by a monkey in Phuket a few months back), I did not want to go near them. There is also a bat cave, where hundreds of bats leave at sunset but unfortunately I was there at the wrong time.

I didn’t meet anyone in Battambang so this was the first time I actually felt like a solo traveller. Before having an early night, I dropped off my bike and had some local food at the night market: noodle soup.IMG_20151102_133343

After packing up my stuff and a slow start to the day, I caught a mini van back to Bangkok, crossing the border at Poipet. Last time I did this crossing, I had to wait three hours to go through border control getting into Thailand. This time, I was pleased to discover that I was in a queue for about five minutes. The journey was pretty standard with the arrival time later than expected. I got the BTS to my old housemates condo, where we shared stories of our travel adventures over noodle soup at our regular street vendor. It was so nice to catch up before I left Bangkok.

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Phnom Penh, Cambodia: Killing Fields and Halloween

Finally I reached a hostel in Phnom Penh after meeting a lovely tuk tuk driver.

We were settled to have a dorm at Mad Monkeys but the receptionist messed up so we got a three bed private room for the same price. This hostel were definitely down for partying.FB_IMG_1446516083979

After finding some local food and chatting for hours, which wasn’t that cheap as the area is expensive, we went to meet some friends at the hostel bar. We mingled, danced on the bar, had shots of bazokas before the majority of people headed to the club. However, I decided to get some kip.

The next morning I was awoken by a message alerting me that one of the British girls I had met lost all her stuff: passport, money, cards, phone.  Worrying slightly about her, I found her downstairs a couple of hours later all calm. One of the workers had safely put her bag behind the bar at the club and it was still there.FB_IMG_1446516079423

After all that excitement, I treated myself to salmon and scrambled egg on a bagel while planning the day ahead. I bid my farewells to the two Swedish guys I had been travelling with for the last week. It was time to go in different directions.

A group of five: four British girls and a Zimbabwean guys took a tuk tuk to the Killing Fields (Choeung Ek). I really didn’t know anything about the recent history of Cambodia.

Choeung Ek is a site of a former orchard and mass grave of victims of the Khmer Rouge Regine, where they executed over one million people between 1975 and 1979. Here, there are mass graves containing 8,895 bodies, which were discovered after the regine.

As I was walking around listening to the audio guide and reflecting on the victims horror stories, I could feel myself break down in tears with the torture these innocent people went through, and knowing that some of people who were part of this are still alive in a prison today. This place definitely opened my eyes to the recent history of Cambodia. The Killing Field has a Stupa (memorial tower),  skulls, bones and clothes remnants of victims and a detailed museum.FB_IMG_1446594727751

Once we got back to the hostel, a large group of traveller went to the central market to get food and Halloween costumes.

In the evening, we drank Halloween punch at the hostel bar then danced the night away at a local club. It was such a fun night with lots of laughs.

The following day, I’d arranged to get up early to go to S21 prison with two of the girls. I did oversleep but luckily they woke me up. The S21 prison (Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum) was an emotional experience, where we had a guide describe the tortures of the Khmer Rouge Regine and show us around.

received_10156272725135232The prison was formally a school but was turned into the security 21 prison when the Khmer Rouge Regime started: the buildings were enclosed in electrified barbed wire, the classrooms converted into tiny prison and torture chambers, and all windows were covered with iron bars and barbed wire to prevent escapes.

Here, people were tortured, chained together, forced to make false confessions, given 4 spoons of rice porridge a day, beaten and lived in unhygienic conditions. It was horrendous. At the end of the tour were two survivors sharing their story of the prison. received_10156272723315232I have no idea how they come back every day to face their terrible past.

Just before catching a bus to Battambang, I wandered around Phnom Penh with another girl visiting the Royal Palace, Wat Silver, National Museum, Hun Sen Park and the Independance Monument. It was getting extremely hot in Cambodia.

Siem Reap: Angkor Wat, Pub Street, Waterfall exploring

IMG_3806 The first thing on our list was to get out of that hostel and find a new one. Luckily, Siem Reap has loads to choose from due to the rise in tourist.
Siem Reap was completely different to what I expect. In my mind, it was going to be a small, quiet place with little foreigners. It was quite the opposite: large, loud and definitely plenty of tourists. It has become more popular in recent years due to the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat being near by.

I have to say the bad start to Cambodia made me not want to be there but that was soon turned around. After finding a suitable place to stay, we wandered around to see what this area had to offer. We came across several markets full of food and clothes, and pub street with masses of tuk tuks and tourists. There wasn’t much going on but I just loved the feel of the city.IMG_3493

During the afternoon, we decided to have a Cambodian massage, which an interesting experience. Two young girls (they looked about 14 but later found out they were 18) gave us a light massage while talking to us. The girls were lovely but I usually like my massages in silence and slightly harder. For dinner, we decided to have some western food, Mexican, as it was pretty cheap. IMG_3809This is the first time I’ve had western food since being in Asia.

The next day, we woke up early to get our ride to see Angkor Wat at sun rise. I was looking forward to this as some might consider it being one of the wonders of the world: it didn’t disappoint. However, before sunrise, I didn’t expect to have a photo taken of me for the ticket. With hundreds of tourists waiting, the sun slowly emerged from the ground being Angkor Wat: words can not describe the beauty around me. After appreciating the main temple of Angkor Wat, we found our driver, who was sleeping in the tuk tuk, to take us around the huge complex. We wandered around Bayon, Elephant terrace, Chau Say Tevoda, Thommanon, Ta Keo and Ta Prohm; all different in shape, size and style.IMG_3639 If anyone plans to visit Angkor Wat; my advice is to have a driver as the area is massive and it can be tiring walking around in the high heat. We still had a nap once we reached our hostel before having lunch and chilling along pub street with a beer.

IMG_3614In the evening, we were searching where to have our evening meal when we found a cheap burger place. Our waiter, Borey, who we later found out was the owner, was extremely friendly and invited us out with him. In Cambodian style, along with an American guy and Brazilian girl, he took us to a karaoke bar, where the voices were a little screechy, then to a club, which had heavy strobe lighting and was full of teenagers. We didn’t stay here long before returning to pub street to experience the typical tourist night life in this city, where we met a group of guys from Brazil.IMG_3796

Soon we were surrounded with pumping music, loud tourist, strobe lights flashing, and huge crowds dancing outside two of the clubs, which were opposite each other. here was a young girl, who was 14 getting the clubbers going. She was an amazing dancer with some attitude selling bracelets but the crowds just loved her circling and cheering her on. I was in two minds, she shouldn’t be out that late in a drinkers surrounding but she was dancing to earn money for her family. She really did make the night and after talking to her, she enjoyed being there and dancing.

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Cooking class

The following day, we decided to have a chill morning before experiencing a Cambodian cooking class. This was a first as I’ve never done a cooking class before. Walking into the local market soared my senses into overdrive. Smells of sweet fruit and unusual spices whiffed up my nose. Colours and shapes of different types of food: many I didn’t even recognise.

After been shown the different vegetables and spices we were using as our ingredients, we climbing the stairs to the kitchen. There were six of us doing the class with people from different nationalities.

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Beggars on steps to the temple

Even though, we were all cooking a different Cambodian dish, the chef showed us exactly how to cut and cook the ingredients. As with all cooking, we prepared and cooked the vegetables then cooked a certain way to perfect our delicious meal, which we could taste and enjoy after. I made vegetable spring rolls, amok seafood and a sweet pineapple and passion fruit dessert. It all tasted incredible.

In the evening, we met some of the others from the night before and relaxed at Mad Monkeys with a beer.

On the next day, we planned a coach excursion with a company. We were shown 1000 lingos, which was large stones in a lake: they represented women in the Hindu religion. Our guide wasn’t clear so I’m not sure about the importance of them. As we were walking to the huge reclining Buddha, beggars sat on every step facing the ground wearing minimal dirty clothes. Many people who walked passed gave them small change. It just showed how poor the country is outside of the main city. IMG_3750For those who have not seen poverty like thus, it can be a shock to the system but I feel it can opens ones eyes to the reality surrounding us every day.

From here, we wandered to the huge waterfall. At first, I thought it was such a disappointment but we were not shown the main future at first. We had some time to relax, swim in the waterfall and climb rocks. It was heaving with people: tourists and locals, bathing and jumping off the huge rocks. We were rushed to leave, which was slightly irritating as we were up to stay there a little longer. On the way back, we were taken to a restaurant in the middle of nowhere so that the driver could get a free meal. We decided to have lunch in the centre of Siem Reap followed by ice cream with one of the girls.IMG_3772

I was slightly disappointed with the trip as u thought the excursion was expensive for what we did and saw. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to others.

As the weather was extortionate, we hid in the room with the fan to relax during the afternoon. Once we had rested, we met up with some of the people at Naga before heading to Pub Street to dance the night away.

In Siem Reap, there is not a masses to do so the following day we laid by the pool in Mad Monkeys before heading back to Hua Hin to celebrate our friends graduating from the TESOL course.

Trip to Cambodia: Nothing ever goes as planned! 

IMG_3467After the easier than expected re-entry visa process, two of us started our trip to Cambodia.

First, we headed to the main train station in Bangkok to depart for our four and a half hour journey to the border of Cambodia. It was a standard ride with hard seats, sweat dripping and wind blowing in our faces. On the train, we met a lovely Thai ladies, who didn’t speak any English but she was constantly smiling at us. When she brought some food for herself, she offered both of us an hard boiled egg. As she departed the train, she frantically waved goodbye. This is exactly my experience of Thai people: they are so friendly, welcoming, generous and want to constantly help you. What better country to be in.

Eventually after a three hour delayed journey, which the train was typically working in thai time, we left the station on a tuktuk to the Poipet boarder. After a quick and easy transition between countries, we entered into a loud, bustling, bright town full of casinos, bars and mountains of people at nine in the evening. We travelled to Siem Reap for about two hours in a taxi with two guys from Korea.

Then started our Cambodia challenges: first, we randomly stopped off on the side of the road to pick up a young lady, who was squeezed into the back with us. The ride suddenly got extremely uncomfortable.

Next, the taxi driver has no idea where our hostel that we booked was. After driving around for an hour and asking several people, we got dropped off at the right place. By thus time, it was half eleven.

When we spoke to the lady at the counter, which we had to wake up, she informed us that there was no room in the dorm we booked and that there was no where else to stay. Also, we discovered that it was the Cambodian New Year so all accommodation would be full. Exhausted and tired from the journey, I convinced her that there must be someone in her hostel where we could rest our heads for the night. She took us up to the huge main dorm, which looked like a warehouse, provided us with fold out bed and pillow. Looking around, I soon discovered that there were mosquito nets on every bed; this was going to be an interesting night. I went back down the metal, dangerous stairs to find a sheet. Somehow I managed to get some sleep even with mosquito’s buzzing around, feeling hot and sweaty, loud music blaring from the streets and dogs barking at the crack of dawn.

To top it off, my friend woke up with a red spots all over her body and face, which we suspect is flea or bed bites. I think we will search for a new place to stay while here.

Let’s just say, I will remember this introduction to Cambodia.

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