A Travellerspoint blog

Cambodia

Easy river living in Kampot

semi-overcast 34 °C
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Crossing the border into Cambodia was both relaxed and stressful at the same time. A Cambodian visa technically costs $20 at the border, but it is almost impossible to pay less than $26 due to corruption. However, the forms were easy to finish and all-in-all our border crossing took about 5-10 minutes! Incredibly fast compared to every other crossing! Just across the border was a small casino village for Vietnamese, since it is illegal to gamble in Vietnam.

It seems odd, but the landscape did seem to change when we crossed the border, as did the atmosphere. All through Cambodia people were full of smiles and very friendly, however, you couldn't help but feel like with some people, this was forced and the real incentive was for you to give them money... and why not?! The poverty was more obvious here than other places I had visited.

It took us a while to find our hostel; Acadia backpackers, which had been recommended to us by almost everyone. As soon as we arrived we saw why. For $3 a night I had a comfortable dorm bed in a beautiful hostel right on Kampot river with stunning scenery. There was a boat swing, a high rope swing into the river and a 'blob'; an inflatable raft where someone sits on one end and others jump on the opposite end to catapult the other into the air and water! It was a lot of fun, even just watching!
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The dorm
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Boat swing
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Rope swing
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Blob

The first day I went with others from the hostel to Kampot town and ate the biggest ribs I have ever seen! The amount of meat on them was ridiculous! That evening I chilled in the bar with my new friends.
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Durian statue in the centre of town!

In the day, George and I hung out with other people from the hostel, playing on the rope swing and blob. My upper strength of a gnat meant that I could only just hang on long enough to make the water, but other guys were able to swing to the apex and do a flip which was cool to watch! In the afternoon a group of us went tubing along the river. The river was dammed and every afternoon, around 5pm, they opened the dam making rapids in the river and really fun tubing. However, that evening they didn't open it :( so we were left to float leisurely down the river with a few beers...

In the evening we went to the town again to try some famous homemade fresh noodles, which the guy made right in front of us. They were delicious.
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Back at the hostel there was a big party and all the bar guys drank too, which inevitably led to multiple free drinks and shots at the bar!, quite a messy night!

Kampot was a nice town, but a lot of the restaurants and businesses were owned by expats rather than local people, which seemed odd. The river was pretty and the local area was very scenic, however we had arranged to meet Steve, Paul and Steffi in Koh Rong so we left Kampot after only 2 nights.

Posted by Libbytes 08:37 Archived in Cambodia Tagged kampot Comments (0)

First taste of beach-bum life; Koh Rong

semi-overcast 37 °C
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We left Kampot for Sihanoukville mid morning and immediately caught a boat to the small island Koh Rong.
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We checked into our beach accommodation, which was $10 a night for a private room with a double bed! We all got a room each at that price!
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The view from the guest house

The first night we met the guys at a cute little cafe which made the best quesadillas I've ever had with tiny kittens running about that just wanted cuddles! At one point I had 4 kittens fighting for the prime position on my lap! We came here everyday...
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Steve getting kitty cuddles
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Pile on
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I chilled on the beach that night with Steve, Paul, Steffi, George, Karen and Marc, and we watched the world cup and had too many drinks!

The next day the group of us (minus Karen as she felt very ill) went on a boat trip fishing and snorkelling. I got really sea sick, which is usual for me, but perhaps due to the night before! The visibility for snorkelling wasn't great, but we managed to catch a lot of fish (I didn't catch any!! No matter how hard I tried!!) which was good because we cooked and ate all the fish we caught!
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Waiting for the boat
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Snorkelling
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We watched the sun set from the boat, then returned to shore where we waited until dark before wading out off the beach to about waist deep to watch bioluminescent plankton which truly was incredible. The plankton responded to movement, so we were thrashing about in the water making it glow. And when you removed your arms/hands from the water you could see them in little dots on your skin... fascinating!

The next day George and I walked up and over the interior of the island (which had no roads) to the opposite side of the island; long beach. The walk through the jungle was very hot and humid, and at some points required clambering over rocks clinging onto ropes and vines.
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After almost an hour hike we were relieved to see the beach...
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I played in the sea whilst George chilled on the beach... something he can't to regret thanks to the sand flies...
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We decided to take a local boat taxi back to the main village and spent that evening with Karen, Steffi and Marc, eating BBQ and playing beer pong! In the bar that night I met Wilf and Dave again! Still a small world....

We arranged to travel now as a large group of myself, Karen, George, Steve, Paul and Steffi, and we headed from Koh Rong to the capital; Phnom Penh.

I loved koh rong... it was remote and still undeveloped with a quiet atmosphere, but it still had some modern/western bars and cafes which was a nice comfort for a few days. The island was beautiful, especially long beach, but I couldn't help notice a high amount of rubbish (especially plastics) on the beaches, I didn't know if it was left by tourists or washed ashore. But still, it was a shame. The plankton off shore really did capture me though, I have since heard that this exists off the coast of Norfolk in UK too!!

Posted by Libbytes 03:21 Archived in Cambodia Tagged beach koh_rong bioluminescent_plankton Comments (0)

Extremes in Phnom Penh

sunny 36 °C
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The newly formed travel group of myself, Steve and Paul from Bristol, George from Gloucester, Steffi from Germany and Karen from The Netherlands, headed off together in what turned into a private minibus from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh. It quickly became apparent that from now on I was tour guide and organiser for all trips, which I loved and hated simultaneously!

We arrived at an amazing hostel (recommended by Sean) hostel eighty8. It had a pool table and a pool! That evening we all got in the pool and initiated a late-finishing pool party which ended due to complaints from fellow guests.... oops!
England was playing in the world cup that night so George and I patriotically stayed up til 5am to support... by stayed up I mean fell sleep on the Thai sofas in front of the TV... lol unfortunately, England lost :(

Our first full day in Phnom Penh we visited the killing fields, a museum and one site of mass killings and executions during the Pol Pot regime. We got a tuk tuk to take us and on the way there he stopped at a shooting range which allows you to fire any gun you want... strange, but apparently all killing field day-trips include a stop at a shooting range, so it's probably better that we went before, rather than after learning about how millions of people were killed...!!

I didn't fire any guns, but George and Paul did... wow it was loud! Even with heavy duty ear defenders on.
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Gangsta Paul... hahaha

From here we went to the killing fields... what an experience. I didn't know anything about the killings in Cambodia before visiting here. I had heard of Pol Pot and his comparison to Hitler, but I had no idea why or what that meant...

In 4 years (1975-1979) an estimated 3 million people (including women and children) were executed or died due to the Khmer rouge regime. A staggering amount considering the population of Cambodia at that time was only around 8 million...

Life under the Khmer Rouge: Wikipedia.
In power, the Khmer Rouge carried out a radical program that included isolating the country from all foreign influences, closing schools, hospitals, and factories, abolishing banking, finance, and currency, outlawing all religions, confiscating all private property and relocating people (often splitting up families) from urban areas to collective farms where forced labour was widespread.

The Khmer Rouge attempted to turn Cambodia into a classless society by depopulating cities and forcing the urban population into agricultural communes. The entire population was forced to become farmers in labour camps. They forced people to work for 12 hours non-stop, without adequate rest or food. These actions resulted in massive deaths through executions, work exhaustion, illness, and starvation. Money was abolished, books were burned, teachers, merchants, and almost the entire intellectual elite of the country were murdered to make the agricultural communism, as Pol Pot envisioned it, a reality.

During their four years in power, the Khmer Rouge overworked and starved the population, at the same time executing selected groups who they believed were enemies of the state or spies or had the potential to undermine the new state. People who they perceived as intellectuals or even those who had stereotypical signs of learning, such as glasses, would also be killed. People would also be executed for attempting to escape from the communes or for breaching minor rules. If caught, offenders were taken quietly off to a distant forest or field after sunset and killed.

The executed were buried in mass graves. In order to save ammunition, the executions were often carried out using wooden sticks, spades or sharpened bamboo. In some cases the children and infants of adult victims were killed by having their heads bashed against the trunks of Chankiri trees. The rationale was "to stop them growing up and taking revenge for their parents' deaths."

The killing fields included an audio tour with accounts from survivors and graphic details. Waking around the fields you could see places were mass graves were. And even the tree used for killing children...
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Graves
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Killing tree.

A memorial building housed hundreds of skulls and bones...
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The place was shocking...

From here we drove to the S-21 prison or 'Tuol Sleng' (which was a school before). It was used to interrogate and torture potential enemies of the regime... it was kept almost intact as a memorial and museum, and was very creepy...
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The day was emotionally draining and we returned in the afternoon to chill in the pool, all of us very quiet...

After a swim and a nap we headed for food, which lead to drinks and karaoke (there were karaoke bars everywhere!) And eventually a very seedy night club!
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The next day we spent the whole day lounging by the pool and snoozing, still tired from the full day before. We left that evening on a night bus to Siem Reap, the home of Angkor Wat.

Phnom Penh really was the city of extremes...

Posted by Libbytes 09:55 Archived in Cambodia Tagged phnom_penh Comments (0)

Say Wat?!? Angkor Wat.

sunny 36 °C
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We arrived in Siem Reap very early and had to wait until midday to check in. The night bus wasn't great so all of us slept on sofas in the lobby until we were allowed in the room. Another lovely hostel, this place also had a swimming pool, but was a little further from the centre of town.

In the afternoon, after a quick dip we headed to a collection of remote villages in two tuk tuks. The houses were pretty, especially those built on stilts. The drivers then took us to a crocodile farm, which was not the best in terms of animal welfare, mainly due to the shear number of crocs, but still it was interesting to see. The boys were a little obsessed with catching one of the free roaming chickens to throw in to the enclosure... So much so, they asked the staff, who agreed! ...poor chicken...(s)!!!
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Driving through Siem Reap
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Tuk tuk!!!
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Baby crocs
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Paul with his crocodile food!!

When we got back we all got in the pool again, before eating at the local night market and taking an early night in preparation for a 4am start at Angkor Wat the following day...

Angkor Wat temple:
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Still dark when we arrived...
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Watching the sun rise
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The road to Angkor Thom:
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George trying to pose in the bridge
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Wish we had a better form of transport...
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Spot the face... and spot the German!

Bayon temple:
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Baphuon temple:
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Ignoring the sign and climbing up...
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Elephant walk:
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Preah Khan temple:
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Ta Prohm temple:
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Paul was finally happy after we found the dinosaur marking...
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By the end of it all we were knackered, so went back to the hostel for a nap. Since we only bought a one day ticket to visit the temples, myself, Karen, George and Steve went back to watch the sunset.
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Acting like the locals to cool down!
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That evening back at the hostel we played an all time favourite drinking game of mine; drink uno! Followed by watching the Holland game for Karen and too many drinks...
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The night ended late!

The following day was slow and lazy, a hangover cure of kfc and some serious pool time was topped with a night at the Cambodian circus; more like a drama and acrobatic performance. It was really good fun!
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That night we took an over night bus back in to Bangkok, Thailand.

Siem Reap was great for the temples, but we did get harassed by street sellers almost everywhere we went which quickly became frustrating. The town was nice, but like everywhere we went in Cambodia; was completely overrun by tourists and the things that come along with that - the street sellers... We constantly felt harassed and like we were merely walking wallets. Local people chose only to interact with us if there was a chance of a tip. It's a shame really, but we were glad to get out of Cambodia. I'm not sure if being in a larger group effected this, and sure, we only went to big towns... Perhaps I should try to return to Cambodia, alone, or in search or smaller towns as I'm sure Cambodia has a lot more to offer.

Posted by Libbytes 04:46 Archived in Cambodia Tagged siem_reap angkor_wat angkor Comments (0)

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