I ❀️ Cambodia

I was so sad to leave Cambodia, I had such an amazing time. I was able to tick an item off my bucket list by seeing the beautiful Angkor Wat in Siem Reap and even got to see its beauty revealed at sunset. I learned of the difficult past suffered by the Cambodian people in Phnom Penh and sunbathed on the beautiful beaches of Sihanoukville and Koh Rong. I shared these memorable moments and also partied with some great people.

I was confused with the currency to begin with but it is quite simple once you know. I took US Dollars which was accepted everywhere. Most things are labelled in dollars. You are given change in dollars but also in Riel, so your purse will contain both currencies and both can be used everywhere. 4000 Riel = 1USD. When it was obvious I was confused the Cambodian people were very helpful and very honest!

I found myself eating quite a lot of western food as it is on offer pretty much everywhere. The Cambodian dishes were very similar to Thailand and so I did taste a few stir-fry dishes. The street stalls sell the best pancakes and other desserts.

Phnom Penh was very dusty and polluted due to the amount of bikes on the road together with a lot of buliding works and some very kind tuk tuk drivers buy masks for their passengers.

I grew very fond of the Cambodians and found them so friendly and helpful. The children are adorable and I truly hope Cambodia continues to develop so that they have a good future.

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Another side to Cambodia – beautiful beaches and no pollution!

Leaving the chaos of Phonm Penh it was time for beach time. Just a 5 hour bus ride at $7 to Sihanoukville and the madness of Phonm Penh was replaced with a beach resort. It reminded me of any other seaside town; a beach, bars and shops. Once off the coach we were met with tuk tuk drivers and men on motorbikes. For $1 me & my backpack jumped on the back of a motorbike and headed for a hostel. The hostels here were mainly bungalows, which could be quite pricey as a single traveller but lucky for me I was with Jenni, a Spanish girl I had travelled there with and so we shared a bungalow at Big Easy Hostel for $4 each. After being in Thailand, prices in Cambodia seem rather expensive!

We started our first day on Serendipity beach but this is where all the nightlife is and so the sea wasn’t very clean. We paid a man & his motorbike $2 to take us to Ortis beach; this was more like it! Clean white sand and clean blue sea.

The next day a group of us headed for “the island” named Koh Rong.

A 2 hour boat trip at a pricey $10 each way, I was met with pristine white beaches, turquoise water and limited development. Backpackers staying in Sihanoukville will undoubtedly head over to “the island” for a few days, but with only 18 clusters of bungalows, no roads and no electricity, only current generator generating electricity at certain hours of the day, it still has that desert island feel. I doubt developers will allow it to stay like this for long though!

As there was 6 of us we were able to get a lovely beach bungalow at Happy Bungalows for $12 each, very pricey for a backpackers budget, but it was a treat to ourselves.

Unfortunately I only stayed for 1 night and 2 days and by day we relaxed on the beach and swam in the warmest sea I have ever been in. By night the sky was so clear you could see hundreds of stars. We drank through the night and by 3am we were swimming in the sea (still as warm as a bath) amongst the lights of the plankton. What an amazing experience!

I left the island at 4pm the following day and sailed back to Sihanoukville. I found a hostel for $1.50 named Utopia, which was the worse dorm of my trip so far, but for such a cheap price I was happy. Not wanting to spend too much time in the small smelly dorm I headed out to the bars and stayed there until I could drink and dance no more, meaning I only had to sleep for 3 hours before I was getting my bus back to Phnom Penh…

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The horrible past of Cambodia

“Tragically it will probably happen again, so for your sake, remember us and remember our past as you look to your future.” – Ros Kusel – Cambodian – held in the teenage camp.

Paying my respects at the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh and S21 was not an easy day, but obeying the above words of Ros Kusel a Cambodian survivor, I feel it ok to share my day.

Choeung Ek is only one of over 300 killing fields in Cambodia. About 20,000 innocents were exectued and murdered here by the Khmer Rouge Regime under the reign of the paranoid and barbaric Pol Pot between 1975 and 1979. He declared 1975 as Year Zero and wanted to “purify” society! And his reasons for killing babies:

“Clearing grasses, will cut its entire root off.”

Unbelievable!

There was a small fee of $6 to include an audio tour, narrated by the said Ros Kusel. The admission fee contributes towards developing and conserving the site as well as helping the elderly and poor and also talented students.

The audio tour guides you around starting from the point that the trucks pulled up with the unknowing victims, the registration offices, torture points (Pic 1) and through the many mass graves. (Pic. 2). It is hard to believe what went on here, but it all became very emotionally overwhelming for me when I noticed the clothes protruding through the very ground I was walking on. (Pic 3). Whenever there is heavy rainfall and even after all these years, and many excavations, more clothes, rags and bones continue to surface. It makes you realise the unimaginable number of victims that lost their innocent lives here.

There was more heartbreak to follow.

After Pol Pot’s army forced city dwellers to flee to the countryside, to live almost as slaves, everywhere shut down; hospitals, shops, offices, schools. Tuol Sleng Primary School was amongst these and became S-21, used for imprisonment, interrogation, torture and killing. (Pic 4)

The classrooms in Block A became torture rooms (pic 5) and Blocks B, C and D were reconstructed into tiny cells. (Pics 6 & 7).

From prisoners records found, it is estimated that 20,000 people were killed here including un-recorded children.

Before the exit, a gentleman by the name of Chum Manh, sits with his book for sale. He is a survivor of S-21 and I was able to find out from him through a translater that he is now 70 years old and the only reason he survived was because he was able to fix a guards typewriter. In return for Chum maintaining this typewriter he was fed and his life spared.

Being at the sites where such horriffic events in history took place is heartbreaking. I can share facts, descriptions and figures with my readers but I cannot explain the sadness, hatred, confusion and heartbreak.

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Bucket List – See Angkor Wat – βœ”️

I was so excited to be seeing this magnificant place that despite my long tiring journey and beers with new friends, I was awake at 4am waiting for a Moto (tuk tuk) to take me to the temple.

Standing in the dark with a huge famous sillohette just across the water from me I made sure I savoured the memory. Crowds of people were lined along the waters edge, cameras at the ready waiting patiently in the early hours for the sun to rise from behind the temple and reveal its beauty. And it was beautiful.

Angkor Wat is now a world heritage site and so there was an entry fee of $20 for a 1 day pass. This gives you a ticket with your photo on and enables you to come and go as you please. Because the city of temples is so vast this is a welcome idea. If you pay a tuk tuk driver about $15 you hire him for the day and so for example you can see Angkor Wat at sunrise, walk around, go back to your hostel for lunch and then head back to see the other temples all at your leisure.

Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia. It extends over approximately 400 square kilometres and although Angkor Wat is the most well known, there are many other amazing temples and structures to see. My favourite being the temples that have been overtaken by nature and the setting of a scene from Tomb Raider.

Cambodia is building itself back up following its difficult past and Siem Reap appears to be doing quite well. The awful roads I was once warned about are now easily accessible, although it is clear to see how easily the roads can flood, and the developing towns obviously thrive on tourism. The local people are so friendly, helpful and cheerful and I have instantly become very fond of them. There is still a lot of poverty and this is obvious from the amputees and children begging and selling. It is heartbreaking to see these adorable children who should be at school, sent onto the streets to earn money. A bracelet, a postcard an inscent stick, mean nothing to us but that couple of pence means a lot to them.

For 2 nights I stayed at Mad Monkey Hostel which was a great place to stay. In a good location, about 20 minute drive from Angkor Wat, on a main street and close to the bars! It was a lively hostel with clean dorms, a pool, a rooftop bar and was a constant party. Halloween was a fabulous night and it is amazing what costumes backpackers on a budget can create. My favourite was the ‘spring roll’. A girl wrapped herself in cling film and stuffed it with veg from the local market. Brilliant! I purchased some toy guns for $2, got some black tape from a room mate and went as Lara Croft. I was surprised at how much people liked my cheap & cheerful costume.

The hostel was fully booked on my third night and so I found another hostel around the corner. I had to pay for a private room and at an expensive $6 I had the privilage of no water whatsoever. I feel sorry for the person sitting next to me on this 6 hour bus journey to Phnom Penh!

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A Challenging Day – Thailand to Cambodia

15 hours on 2 buses and I was back in Bangkok. My journey to Cambodia needed to start there as I had decided not to visit Laos as originally planned. I resisted the temptations of Koh San Road and had an early night – very wise decision! The following day turned out to be the most challenging of my travels so far:

Starting the day at 4.45am me and Katie jumped in a taxi to take us to Bangkok train station. We purchased our 50bht (Β£1 approx) tickets for the 3rd class train to take us to Aranyaprathet, the border of Thailand. The journey was supposedly 6 hours but it took 7. The train was clean and all the windows wound down so there was a nice breeze with nice views, just very uncomfortable after sitting on a train seat for 7 hours. Once off the train it was then an 80bht tuk tuk drive to the border. Once at the border we had to go through Passport Control and then it was a 10 minute walk to get our Visas. This cost $20 as expected but then there was a surprise 100bht to be paid, for what? No one that day was actually able to find out! Once the Visa was stapled into the passport it was then a further 5 minute walk to another Passport Control where yet another form was to be completed and finger prints and photo taken. This border crossing on foot took approximately an hour. Finally we were through to Cambodia, but it didnt stop there; it was then an official free bus ride to the bus station. For $10 we bought our bus ticket to Siem Reap and 3 hours later we arrived, but only in the town, it was then another tuk tuk journey to our pre-booked hostel, Mad Monkey. Time of arrival 6.15pm!! The journey ran smoothly thanks to some internet research we did, it was just made tough due to the uncomfortable transport, heat and heavy backpacks.

It’s times like this that make travelling alone rewarding. I treasure and appreciate experiences, whether good or bad and am able to deal with the bad. Travelling alone means you do not have your treasured experiences ruined by someone elses grumbling.

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Hey! πŸ˜„

2 months, 2 weeks & 3 days until I set off on my solo adventure through South East Asia and into Australia. Follow me on my journey and I will share with you how a 31 year old, single, materialistic, friend loving, Prosecco drinker, gives it all up to experience life as a backpacker, fulfil a dream, and tick off more items from her ‘bucket list’.