Cambodia

After Saigon (aka Ho Chi Mihn City), Mar and I gave up all advanced hostel bookings. We have been sticking to the method of showing up to our destination homeless. It’s not too hard to find a place once we arrive.

Once we found a spot at our first stop in Cambodia, Phnom Penh, we decided to meander around the city. Well, we ended up getting fancy. First we got ice cream, then we got massages which were incredible, then we went to a rooftop bar and spend $26 between the two of us on drinks, an app, and a pizza. Trust me, that’s an expensive dinner in Asia. Everyone said, spend one night in Phnom Penh then move on, but Martha and I really loved that city, as we do most cities. I’m glad our journey took us back there unexpectedly with Brett.

The next day we went to Toul Sleng Prison and the Killing Fields, which I’ve already talked about. Late that afternoon we hopped on a bus to Sihanoukville. We met Brett, a solo traveler from Canada on that bus! Apparently we can’t get enough of the Canadians or of solo male travelers. We spent the next three weeks splitting rooms and traveling with Brett.DSC_0265DSC_0294DSC_0303DSC_0312

Sihanoukville is a fun beach city in the Gulf of Thailand. Serendipity beach is lined with hopping bars and people. Brett knew some people from earlier in his travels so we met up with them and went out. The next day we were playing frisbee in the water all day when Nev and Jo asked to join. Seriously, I’ve made so many friends with that frisbee…

The five of us got into brochure modeling for a hotel, which in my opinion was more of an Angkor Beer ad than a hotel ad, but whatever. It was interesting to say the least. I got pretty sick that evening and spent some time lying on the bathroom floor but I made it out alive. Sorry about your feet Mar.

Brett, Mar, and I took a ferry to Koh Rong, where Brett’s friends had taken off to the day before. I was feeling sick still so I didn’t join in on the Fourth of July festivities but I heard it was a blast. We met a lot of cool people through Brett and his friends. We all got to know each other really well in Thailand.

Everyone loved Koh Rong. It’s a beautiful, minimally developed island not far off the coast of Cambodia. We spent a decent chunk of time on that island before making our way back to Sihanoukville. I’m really interested to see how Koh Rong develops in the future so I need to pay it another visit!DSC_0442DSC_0478DSC_0484

The bus from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap was full so we went back to Phnom Penh with Brett since he still had to do the Killing Fields. I’m glad we got to go back and hang out for another night because I really like that city.

I fell in love with Siem Reap the second we arrived. It’s basically the tourist hub for people who are going to see Angkor Wat but it was incredible regardless. Siem Reap is very lit up, lively and energetic! Pub Street was the center of attention with its’ neon signs and colorful strands of cube lights. It was easy to meet people and had a lot of fun bars- finally some proper dancing! We did a pub crawl one night that was one of the funnest nights I’ve had in Southeast Asia.

10501711_703623683042586_7497935914188128555_n10418460_703631693041785_4917575824375411168_nOur last spot on our agenda in Cambodia was of course the infamous Angkor Wat. I was geeking out. I’d watched a few documentaries about its’ history and how it was built before coming over here and it just FASCINATES me. It was even cooler to see it in person after learning about it at home. I’m not even going to get into how it was built or this will be a super long post, just watch a documentary okay?  I didn’t agree with all the people who said the temples all start to look the same after a few hours. They were all unique and stunning.

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Cambodia was an absolute blast. The locals were so friendly and we met SO many amazing people who we continued to meet up with on and off through the next month. I’m very thankful we met Brett. We’ve made so many great memories with him and I can’t say enough good things about him- a genuine, fun and kind guy!  In travel time, each day spent with a new friend should be multiplied by 10. That’s how fast friendships develop and it’s so cool.

Once we saw Angkor Wat our Cambodia jaunt was over. We went back to Bangkok after a hectic, time-consuming boarder crossing. Our mainland loop was complete and it was time to start island hopping in southern Thailand.

More on that next:)

Cheers!

 

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Continuing through Cambodia

Our next few stops in Cambodia were comical to say the least.

We met our soon to be best friend forever and ever — Brett — on the way to Sihanoukville. Unsurprisingly another Canadian. We just love our Canadian beauties 😉 Even more unsurprisingly he was another solo male traveler. Derp.

Fam-a-lam

Fam-a-lam

We modeled for a hotel brochure after a day spent on the beaches of Sihanoukville. Earlier in the day we were assaulted by gang of rambunctious Cambodia teens. They were diving underwater trying to touch our butts. I might have “dunked” a few of them as pay back.

Later, Anna came down with heat stoke and puked on my feet. Great times! Oh .. and we got a little sun burnt.

A few days later we jetted over to Koh Rong (so right, Koh Rong) where we somehow gathered a gaggle of Americans to roll in the Fourth of July with. Ben, D.J., Nick, Kevin and I (Anna was still indisposed) screamed Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones into the wee hours of the morning. One bar even imported Budweiser for the occasion. It was a pretty sick evening! I mean I love Wapo Fourths but this was one for the record books! We even had some Canadians pretending to be from ‘Merica. *cough Brett cough*

Happy camper

Happy camper

Beautiful Koh Rong

Beautiful Koh Rong

Anna banana

Anna banana

Classic long-tail photo

Classic long-tail photo

3k beach on Koh Rong

3k beach on Koh Rong

Koh Rong

Koh Rong

Koh Rong

Koh Rong

Koh Rong

Koh Rong

From the coast we took a detour back to Phnom Penh before hitting up Siem Reap with Brett. We met up with our fellow brochure models — Nev and Jo from England — on our first night, and made plans to hit Angkor Wat at sunrise.

Boy did Angkor not disappoint. I’ll let the pictures to the talking.

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This little light of mine …

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Temple time

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The A-team

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What is everyone taking pictures of?

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Beauty

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A quick pub crawl here, few more temples there and we were on our way back to Thailand!

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Pub crawl!

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Little Pub Street action

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Woohoo!

We were wrapping up our mainland loop! It was a sad milestone. Over a month finished, four countries, countless pals and memories!

Next, the full moon party and Thai islands!

xx

Cambodia — a country in ten days

Phnom Penh

The differences between most countries we have visited have been apparent but hard to pin point. It isn’t so much major changes but a sense or a mood.

But from Cambodia to Vietnam was obvious. The country is clearly not as industrialized as it’s neighbors, but with good reason.

For those who don’t know (I didn’t until I started researching for this trip), Cambodia was experiencing a civil war from 1968 until 1975. The Khmer Rouge was the victorious side and post-war they declared Cambodia a farmer nation. For four years horrifying genocide over took the country and three million people were killed.

If you had an education, you were dead. If you could speak another language, worked for the prior government, had too pale of skin, lived in a city, or wore glasses you were considered a threat to the government and you were killed. Your whole family was killed.

If you weren’t already dead, you were sent to the countryside to work on rice fields because the Khmer wanted to dramatically increase the rice exports to impossible numbers. They worked civilians like slaves while starving them.

The genocide ended in 1979. Most people in the country either remember and experienced the horrors or are once removed from it.

In Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, Anna and I visited a killing field just outside of the city. This was one of 300 of mass graves where thousands of people were killed and placed in mass graves. This one was six acres with 20,000 people buried.

I’ve never been to a concentration camp, but people I spoke with it was more chilling than Auschwitz.

They have recovered and identified as many people as they can but each rainy season more bones and teeth are washed up. They are bone fragments scattered all over the area still. It was horrifying and incredibly moving.

During the Khmer Rouge they wanted to cleanse the country of culture that was deemed challenging so they destroyed most of the temples and historical sites around the country. Angkor Wat is one of the only temples standing today.

It is so hard to see a country that was literally stripped of their sense of self.

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People leave bracelets as a sign of respect.

The Killing Fields, Cambodia

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Martha and I visited the Killing Fields on July 2nd. It’s a tough thing to write about but it was such an emotional experience. I went to the Killing Fields with a decent amount of knowledge after reading online and reading the book “First They Killed My Father,” a reflection through the eyes of a five year old living during the Khmer Rouge. Her father, mother, and two sisters where all killed in the genocide. The genocide killed an estimated 3 million people in just 3.5 years. Pol Pot (leader of the Khmer Rouge) stormed into Phnom Pehn in April 1975 and forced the Lon Nol government out of power. The citizens fled the city, sometimes walking for days until reaching camps. In these camps, everyone was ordered to dress the same and work hard in the rice fields to supply rice for the country. The rice was used by the government to give to China in exchange for weapons, while the country was left starving. People who had never lived in cities were the lucky ones. They were seen as the rightful people of Cambodia, mainly because they were uneducated. All government employees, doctors, or educated people were killed. Having an education gave the people power, power that Pol Pot did not want them to have. He thought that education was unnecessary, only hard work was needed for the countries survival.

The Killing Fields in Phnom Pehn are a mass grave of over 20,000 victims covering 6 acres. There are over 300 Killing Fields in Cambodia, but this one is the largest known. People were brought there and executed via blows to the head or slits the throat with the leaves of a specific tree in the area, and in many other ways. There is a specific tree that babies were thrown at to be executed. I know this is hard to read. Around some of the graves there are poles where people leave bracelets to honor the victims of the genocide. I left the feather bracelet Abby gave me before I left because it’s meant to be your most traveled bracelet. It’s very moving to see the amount of bracelets left behind. This place has impacted many people including myself. I was really thankful audio was included when you arrived because it solidified my previous knowledge and taught me even more. It made the experience way more powerful than I could of asked for. It was hard not to cry and I teared up a few times. Each year flooding and erosion bring bone fragments to the surface “as if the spirits of those who died here will not lie still.” You can see fragments in the ground. It’s unnerving to think that something like this has happened so recently and that it still happens. Cambodia lost much of its’ culture during this short period. There is something so special about Cambodia that you can just feel. They’ve suffered so much, but smile so often. Anyone about 40 or over lived through the genocide and it has impacted their families. I remember walking around the lake, a mass grave covered with water, and feeling so sad yet thankful that I could be there to learn and be so emotionally struck by it. It’s a hard spot to visit but it’s so necessary to learn about the genocide so that we don’t repeat the past. Just like we should learn about the Holocaust or Rwanda. They all have parallels.

The genocide ended in 1979 after the Yuns (Vietnamese) invaded Cambodia and took control. The Khmer Rouge consisted of many young boys. It’s hard to point fingers and you can even say that members of the Khmer Rouge were victims themselves. It was kill or be killed. We also visited Toul Sleng Prison where people were tortured and killed. There were only seven survivors of this prison and it was equally as hard to visit. We left the day feeling somber, but educated. I highly recommend making the Killing Fields a must see in your life time. If you’ve ever visited the holocaust museum in the States, this will be a similarly moving experience.